Arsenal needed a win against relegation-threatened Reading to keep hope of a top-four finish alive, and they got it.
It was clear from the first minute that the Gunners were the far superior side, and they played like it the entire game. When Santi Cazorla's misplaced shot found Gervinho in the 11th minute, the Ivorian tapped in, and the contest was essentially over.
But just to make sure, Arsenal kept relentlessly pressing and probing, turning the Royals from side to side and forcing them into a series of last-ditch challenges that miraculously prevented the home side from scoring again before halftime.
After play restarted, though, all bets were off. Santi Cazorla, the man of the match, sumptuously curled a first-time shot into the bottom corner, and Olivier Giroud slotted the third past Stuart Taylor on a wonderfully orchestrated counterattack.
A lapse in concentration from Nacho Monreal produced the only blot on Arsenal's record, as it allowed Hal Robson-Kanu to poke in a header just inside Lukasz Fabianski's far post.
But it didn't matter in terms of the result. After Adrian Mariappa hauled Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain down just outside the box, Mikel Arteta stroked the ball past Taylor from the spot to seal the 4-1 victory.
The Gunners are now in control of their own destiny. If they win out, they will finish in the top four for the 17th straight season.
Let's examine each Arsenal player's performance on the day.
Kieran Gibbs: N/A
After being sick all week and only training for a day prior to the game, he replaced Nacho Monreal when the Spaniard banged his knee on the post trying to prevent Robson-Kanu from scoring. He was involved little in the approximately 20 minutes he spent on the pitch.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6.5
The Ox's first contribution to the game was to run past several Reading defenders at pace and get tackled by Mariappa just outside the box. Because he fell so far inside the area, Chris Foy awarded a penalty, but it was not justified.
Regardless, that was one of a few threatening moments from a player many expected to start, and he made the most of his limited time on the pitch.
Lukas Podolski: 6
Deployed as a central striker for the first time since Arsenal's Premier League opener against Sunderland, Podolski made a couple incisive runs and passes after replacing Olivier Giroud in the 76th minute, but the game was already won by that point.
Lukasz Fabianski: 6.5
The Pole had virtually nothing to do all game, and could not have prevented Robson-Kanu's consolation. Reading only made him work once or twice, and he dealt with those shots well.
Bacary Sagna: 7
A typically solid display from Sagna on his return to the starting XI, though the nature of the game forced him to use his weaker attacking side. Nevertheless, he impressed with a couple good crosses and some nifty skills on the ball.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny: 6.5
I can't really remember any memorable moments for either of Arsenal's center-backs, who mostly served as back pass options when the midfielders were facing their own goal.
Mertesacker did flick on a couple crosses and nearly assisted Gervinho at one point, while Koscielny made one very good tackle on Pavel Pogrebnyak. Neither gave Arsene Wenger any reason to bring back Thomas Vermaelen.
Nacho Monreal: 6
The Spaniard made the only major mistake of any Arsenal player, going to sleep after Olivier Giroud had put the Gunners 3-0 up and allowing Robson-Kanu to get in behind him to head home a cross.
Other than that, though, Monreal was typically solid at both ends of the pitch throughout the game. Arsenal fans will hope that his knee injury, sustained after colliding with the post when trying to prevent Robson-Kanu from scoring, will not keep him out for too long.
Mikel Arteta: 8
Arteta was his usual metronomic self, completing a remarkable 99 out of 107 passes, according to WhoScored.com.
When Arsenal were passing around and through Reading for long stretches, Arteta was at the center of the Gunners' machine, spraying the ball to both wings, keeping it away from pressing Royals defenders and making more attacking runs than usual.
The penalty just capped off a quality performance, and it was a fittingly well-struck spot-kick—right into the bottom left corner. Even if Stuart Taylor had guessed the correct side, he would not have been able to keep it out.
Aaron Ramsey: 7.5
I think I've finally figured out the enigma that Aaron Ramsey can occasionally be as a player: He is the more attacking version of Mikel Arteta.
The Spaniard completed 93 percent of his passes on the day, and Ramsey completed 90, while positioned further forward (again via WhoScored.com). While not quite as involved in the proceedings as Arteta, Ramsey worked exceptionally hard to keep all of Arsenal's very intricate attacks going, especially around the penalty area.
Tomas Rosicky: 7
Another performance from the Czech that showed why he is still so important to this Arsenal team.
With his relentless work rate, Rosicky was frequently involved in Arsenal's prolonged spells on the attack, which usually involved several passes in tight spaces in quick succession. Rotating with Santi Cazorla in the left wing position, Rosicky constantly found ways to get involved, as usual.
And on the rare occasions when Reading had the ball, he harried the hapless duo of Mikele Leigertwood and Jem Karacan into giving away possession several times. That formed much of the basis of Arsenal's dominance.
Santi Cazorla: 9.5
There can be no other man of the match really. Who needs Jack Wilshere when you've got Cazorla?
Arsenal did not feel the absence of their star English midfielder at all today. Seemingly given free reign to drift between the left wing and attacking midfield, Cazorla's incredible ability with the ball at his feet nearly produced several more goals. Reading simply could not get near him.
It was fitting that he got on the scoresheet with such a wonderful finish. Gervinho laid the ball perfectly at his feet, and given far too much space by the Royals' defense, he deliciously stroked a curler into the bottom corner first time.
He is now Arsenal's top scorer in the Premier League. As a midfielder.
I'm not sure that I have ever rated Gervinho this highly, but he finally produced a display worthy of high praise.
Some of the same old frustrations were still present, but there should be none of the bashing and bellyaching that usually accompanies a game when Gervinho plays.
Especially during the first half, he was a constant terror to Reading's defense, who could not cope with his well-timed runs and quick feet. His goal was the result of very intelligent movement, and were it not for several last-ditch challenges, he would have had a hat-trick before halftime.
The pass that led to Olivier Giroud's goal should not be overlooked, either. When suddenly presented with an entire half of the pitch and three Reading defenders in front of him, Gervinho patiently dribbled forward, held the ball up and slotted a perfect pass to Giroud that he first-timed past the goalkeeper.
It was a wonderful bit of play on a wonderful day for the much-maligned winger.
Olivier Giroud: 7
If the Frenchman had not gotten a goal, he would have deserved a lower rating, but Giroud's first Premier League goal since January 30 was very well taken.
He knew exactly what he wanted to do and executed his plan well, powerfully slotting the ball right under Stuart Taylor, who could not get down quick enough, effectively sealing the game.
It was a just reward for a hard day's work, which included numerous aerial duels and near-goals that were barely scraped away by a hapless Reading defense. If Giroud's goal serves as the springboard a patch of good form, Arsenal will be well positioned to finish in the top four.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!