Nigel Adkins's first game as Reading manager ended in a 4-1 defeat to Arsenal as his new side were punished for an error-strewn performance.
The two previous games between Arsenal and Reading this season had generated 19 goals and Emirates Stadium was treated to another show, even if Arsenal could only boast a 1-0 lead at half-time thanks to Gervinho's close-range finish.
The Ivorian forward then contributed two assists in one of his finest performances in an Arsenal shirt, teeing up Santi Cazorla for a lovely curling finish and Olivier Giroud for a rather fiercer drive that flew past Stuart Taylor to end the game as a contest.
Though Reading responded through a diving header from Hal Robson-Kanu, Mikel Arteta struck home an ill-deserved penalty as Arsenal restored their three-goal lead after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was fouled just outside the box.
The victory takes Arsenal to within two points of fourth-placed Chelsea after their shock defeat at Southampton, while Tottenham remain a further two points ahead. Reading, meanwhile, are seven points shy of safety with only seven matches remaining, wins for Wigan and Southampton doing their cause no favours whatsoever.
Adkins made two changes when naming his first team as Danny Guthrie and Pavel Pogrebnyak came in for Garath McCleary and Noel Hunt. Arsenal were deprived of Theo Walcott and the stricken Abou Diaby due to injury, while Wojciech Szczesny and Thomas Vermaelen's first-XI exile continued.
Gervinho made his first league start since December and inside 11 minutes he had his second goal in two games. He tried to play in Giroud initially but after the ball was worked wide to Cazorla it was the Ivorian forward who tucked the ball home from close range after drifting into space unnoticed to meet the centre from the Spaniard.
Arsenal maintained a prolonged and heavy assault on the Reading goal. However, they were assisted by some horrendously careless play from the visitors, who gave the ball away constantly, the sloppiness of their passing matched only by the diligence of the last-gasp blocks and tackles which spared them a battering.
Mikele Leigertwood was particularly culpable and one ridiculous attempt to backheel the ball towards his own defence allowed Cazorla to nip in, only for the playmaker to be denied by a fine block from Alex Pearce. Cazorla had a frustrating first half in front of goal, seeing a succession of efforts blocked and dragging another shot just an inch wide of the near post after receiving a pass from Aaron Ramsey.
The prime beneficiary of Reading's reprehensible performance was Gervinho, though, as he enjoyed chance after chance. Allowed to run 40 yards with the ball on one occasion, Gervinho's touch typically deserted him when dragging a shot wide; the Ivory Coast international also fired a shot over the bar having turned sharply in the box and even had a header sneak wide from a Bacary Sagna cross.
Arsenal were proving rather wasteful but they were also denied by a bizarre decision from referee Chris Foy. Giroud beat Taylor to a pass over the top and after lifting the ball into the air was clattered by the keeper. Foy presumably thought the ball had escaped Giroud's grasp but in fact he was well placed to challenge for it.
Despite their lead it was a rather unsatisfying first half for Arsenal - a state of play they rectified almost immediately following the restart. This time Gervinho provided the assist as he played in Cazorla with a neat pass to the edge of the box. The Spaniard curled home a gorgeous first-time finish as he put the ball out of Taylor's reach for his 12th goal of the season, and fourth against Reading.
The visitors enjoyed a brief moment of threat when Laurent Koscielny made a superb challenge to prevent Pavel Pogrebnyak from shooting in the box and Alex Pearce drove a shot at Lukasz Fabianski from the resulting corner, but it was Arsenal who underlined their superiority on 67 minutes.
The goal came from a Reading corner as Arsenal broke with intent, and Gervinho carried the ball forward patiently before slipping the ball left to Giroud. The striker took the chance early and his firm, low drive was close enough to Taylor that the big keeper was unable to block with either arm or foot.
Reading replied within two minutes. Jobi McAnuff lost Sagna all too easily on the left and delivered a teasing cross to the back post where Robson-Kanu had snuck in behind Nacho Monreal to convert with a diving header. The Spanish left-back collided with the post and had to be replaced by Kieran Gibbs.
Another substitute, Oxlade-Chamberlain, then helped restore Arsenal's three-goal lead as he drew a foul from Adrian Mariappa with a driving run. The initial contact was outside the box but referee Foy awarded a penalty and Arteta dispatched his fourth spot-kick of the season.
A fixture that had been responsible for 24 goals this season was finally exhausted, with Adkins left to reflect on a heavy defeat which further reduces his already meagre chances of keeping Reading in the top flight.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Gervinho (Arsenal): You cannot argue with a goal and two assists and although Gervinho did look rather ragged at times, he made a decisive contribution to the contest.
ARSENAL: Fabianski 6, Sagna 6, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6, Ramsey 8, Rosicky 7, Arteta 7, Gervinho 8, Cazorla 8, Giroud 8. Subs: Gibbs 6, Podolski 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6.
READING: Taylor 6, Kelly 5, Mariappa 5, Pearce 6, Shorey 5, Leigertwood 5, Guthrie 5, Karacan 5, Robson-Kanu 7, McAnuff 6, Pogrebnyak 5. Subs: Hunt 5, Akpan 6, McCleary 6.
- Sports & Recreation