By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored a goal in each half as the Gunners booked their place in the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup on Tuesday night.
Arsene Wenger’s side controlled large passages of the game, but found Reading obdurate opponents - especially goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.
After Oxlade-Chamberlain had opened the scoring with 34 minutes on the clock, the Royals goalkeeper time and again prevented the hosts from doubling their advantage.
As Arsenal upped the tempo after the interval, Al-Habsi denied Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lucas in quick succession.
Olivier Giroud - on for his first appearance in a month - saw a powerful header palmed away, before Alex Iwobi’s shot was pushed over the bar by the Reading goalkeeper.
But finally, with 12 minutes remaining, the home side killed the game off when Oxlade-Chamberlain blasted the ball in from the edge of the area.
It was enough to secure the victory for Wenger’s side, who march into the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012/13.
SETTING THE SCENE
The Gunners came into this game with an imposing record of 13 wins from 13 matches in all competitions against Reading.
Coupled with their fine form this season, there was every reason for optimism - although that incredible 7-5 match four years ago warned of the danger of underestimating their Championship opponents.
Wenger followed his standard policy for the League Cup, pairing exciting youngsters ready for their breakthrough with more experienced heads seeking to underline their own credentials.
Only Iwobi survived from the side that was held to the frustrating goalless draw against Middlesbrough, with Carl Jenkinson making his first appearance for Arsenal since May 11, 2014.
In that time he spent a season and a half on loan at West Ham, before a serious knee injury cut it short and after eight long months out, he was finally back in first-team action again.
Elsewhere, Lucas started up front after scoring his first goals for the club in the third-round victory against Nottingham Forest, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Jeff Reine-Adelaide were both given a further chance to impress.
The sight of Jaap Stam in the opposing dugout added a further level of intrigue to the night’s proceedings. The Dutchman was a totem of the Manchester United sides that used to have such titanic battles with the Gunners in the late Nineties, now he was back to renew rivalries.
He may not have played in Arsenal colours for 898 days, but Jenkinson wasted little time in trying to pick up where he left off.
His last appearance, a 2-0 win at Norwich at Carrow Road, saw him score his first-ever goal for the club, and within six minutes he nearly had his second.
It came after smart interplay with Oxlade-Chamberlain down the right, releasing Jenkinson in the box, but his fierce drive was palmed away by Al-Habsi, before he looped his follow-up header over the bar.
Oxlade-Chamberlain came close moments later when he fired across the face of goal as the hosts continued to up the ante in search of an early breakthrough, but they would have to be patient.
They threatened again near the midway point of the first half when Maitland-Niles curled one just wide from the edge of the area, while Jordan Obita tested Emi Martinez with a firm drive at the other end.
Wenger’s side really should have opened the scoring when, out of nowhere, Lucas beat the offside trap and raced on to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s through ball, with only Al-Habsi to beat.
But the Spanish striker hesitated as he went to round the goalkeeper and instead squared to Iwobi, his pass evading his team-mate with the chance going begging.
Elneny tested Al-Habsi again as the Gunners sought to force the issue, and while the Reading stopper was equal to that one, he could nothing about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s opener.
The England international pounced on a defensive error, ran at the desperately backpeddling Royals backline and drilled a low shot into the far corner.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had spoken at the start of the season of the need to add more goals to his game, and with three in 11 appearances, it has been an encouraging start to the campaign for him.
Callum Harriot came perilously close to equalising right at the end of the half with a shot that deflected off Gabriel and looped beyond Martinez, but it landed on the roof of the net to the relief of the hosts.
Arsenal were straight on the front foot after the restart, with Oxlade-Chamberlain and then Lucas going close in the early stages.
The hosts were in charge, but with the just the one-goal lead they remained vulnerable as long as they failed to extend it.
Indeed, they were nearly made pay when, on the hour mark, the Royals swung in a deep cross from the right that Yann Kermorgant attacked in the area, planting a header at goal.
It was heading into the far corner, but Martinez threw himself across goal and made a good save to preserve his side’s lead.
With Reading growing in confidence, Olivier Giroud was thrown into the fray for his first appearance since sustaining a toe injury a month earlier, and received a great reception from the Emirates faithful.
Within minutes he came so close to doubling the Gunners’ advantage as he rose highest to meet a pinpoint Elneny free kick, but his firm header was brilliantly pushed away by Al-Habsi.
The Reading goalkeeper once again proved a thorn in the hosts’ side when, soon after, he beat away Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot and Iwobi scuffed his follow-up effort wide.
The Nigeria international saw a fierce shot palmed over the top by Al-Habsi moments later as Arsenal tried to kill the game off in the closing stages - and with 12 minutes remaining they finally did so.
It came after fine play from Rob Holding, who dribbled past two men to get into the Reading box and while his cross was poked away to the edge of the area, Oxlade-Chamberlain reacted quickest and smashed a firm shot in.
That was enough to seal the win for the Gunners, although there was still time for Martinez to make a really good save to deny Liam Kelly from a free kick.
Arsenal march on into the quarter-finals after another encouraging night’s work at a jubilant Emirates Stadium.
Referee: Graham Scott
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