Grandmaster Wenger lacks a piece
Arsenal 2 Reading 0
Five minutes into the second half of a match where Arsenal had already established a 2-0 lead, the home side's passing and movement reduced Reading's defence to chaos. As centre-backs scrambled to cover for him, the visitors' keeper Marcus Hahnemann was stranded out of position at left-back, in the manner of a chess king being set up for checkmate.
But Arsenal, albeit while earning the win which got them moving in the right direction after they had seen their Champions League and Premier League ambitions vanish, were unable to force mate, settling as they so often do for a resignation. While the manager Arsène Wenger has pointed to defensive fallibility as being the area which ultimately let them down this season, his side are still unable to kill off games in which their sumptuous ability has established them as utterly dominant.
So Wenger, who clearly remains unconvinced about the morale of his much-criticised central defender Philippe Senderos – he remained on the bench throughout – may yet need to seek a forward capable of scoring regularly.
Emmanuel Adebayor has scored his fair share and he secured his 21st Premier League goal with admirable poise and efficiency to break the deadlock on the half-hour, a lead that Gilberto Silva doubled within eight minutes with a shot that deflected in off Andre Bikey. But with Eduardo da Silva sadly out of the picture, Wenger's hopes of giving Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott ample time to fulfil their potential looks over-optimistic as Arsenal complete a third successive season without silverware.
Wenger's most pressing need, however, is to keep his squad together. Cesc Fabregas, who effectively ran this game, spoke with frustration afterwards when someone suggested that the side were young enough to win something next time around. "We want to do it now," he said. Fabregas, who has signed a seven-year contract, will feel more settled in his position when and if his midfield chums Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini, who has been given a deadline of the end of this month, sign new contracts.
Reading, meanwhile, are engaged in a far more primal and urgent struggle. Although Birmingham's defeat yesterday keeps them one place clear of the relegation zone, their manager Steve Coppell is looking for two wins from their three remaining fixtures – at home to Spurs, and away to Wigan and Derby.
Coppell resisted the invitation to criticise Rafa Benitez for making eight changes to the Liverpool side which faced fellow strugglers Fulham on Saturday. But the Reading manager admitted that he might have done more in the January transfer window having decided to stick with the same group of players who had earned promotion with a record points total of 106 and then eighth place in the Premier League in successive seasons.
Goals: Adebayor (30) 1-0; Gilberto (38) 2-0.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Touré (Eboué, 60), Gallas, Song, Clichy; Walcott, Gilberto, Fabregas, Hleb (Denilson, 74); Van Persie, Adebayor (Bendtner, 74). Substitutes not used: Senderos, Mannone (gk).
Reading (4-1-4-1): Hahnemann; Murty, Ingimarsson, Sonko (Duberry, 74), Rosenior; Bikey; Kébé (Matejovsky, 79), Harper (Fae, 74), Cissé, Convey; Kitson. Substitutes not used: Doyle, Federici (gk).
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire)
Booked: Reading Bikey, Sonko, Kitson.
Man of the match: Fabregas.