( AFP ) - Arsenal banished some of the gloom hanging over Emirates Stadium with a comfortable 2-0 victory over visitors Reading in the English Premier League on Saturday.
First-half goals from Ivory Coast striker Emmanuel Adebayor and Brazil midfielder Gilberto provided some welcome relief for manager Arsene Wenger at the end of a nightmarish fortnight which has dashed his ambitions in both the title race and the Champions League.
The Frenchman will not be entirely appeased by the sight of his side putting Reading to the sword.
Indeed, the slick football which left the visitors dazed and confused for long spells of a hideously one-sided game simply served as a reminder of what might have been this season.
Even so, Arsenal deserve credit for not allowing their campaign to amble to a conclusion.
Wenger had demanded a show of strength from his charges in the final weeks and that is precisely what he enjoyed at an unseasonably chilly Emirates.
Even so, the north London side could hardly have asked for more obliging opponents than Reading.
Royals manager Steve Coppell had suggested, after another damaging defeat to fellow strugglers Fulham last week, that he considered this game something of a write-off.
However, with time running out for the Berkshire club in their scramble to avoid relegation, his decision to drop his foremost attacking talents - including the winger Stephen Hunt and striker Kevin Doyle - was akin to hoisting the white flag.
Confronted by visitors devoid of pace or punch, Arsenal enjoyed an utterly trouble-free match.
The tone was set early on when Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas and Adebayor both missed chances - the first a shot from 12 yards, the second an unmarked header.
Only a magnificent diving save from Royals goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann prevented Robin van Persie's 20th-minute free-kick skipping into the bottom corner.
Yet this was not one of those occasions when Arsenal were likely to pay for their profligacy. Reading were utterly toothless and their hopes of returning to Berkshire with even a point were all but snuffed out when they fell behind in the 30th minute.
It was a goal which encapsulated all that is good about Arsenal: after Theo Walcott had danced down the right wing, he laid the ball off to Kolo Toure, who curled a delightful pass onto the thigh of Adebayor.
A quicksilver bodyswerve took the striker beyond defender Ibrahima Sonko and his finish into the bottom corner was unerring.
But if that goal belonged in Arsenal's already bulging scrap-book, their second, eight minutes later, was just plain scrappy.
Gilberto, enjoying a rare run in midfield due to the absence of the injured Mathieu Flamini, shot from 20 yards more in hope than expectation. His effort looked harmless until Andre Bikey deflected the ball past the startled Hahnemann.
Arsenal were able to spend much of the second half in second gear.
Netherlands striker van Persie almost inflicted more damage on Reading's goal difference with a sublime free-kick which clattered the crossbar and the left-hand post before bouncing the wrong side of the goal-line.
Walcott also saw a curling shot clip the woodwork while Fabregas' low drive was cleared off the line by Michael Duberry as Reading struggled to hold back the red tide.
Ultimately, however, Wenger will have been grateful to finish the game with 11 men after Alexander Hleb slapped Reading captain Graeme Murty in the face.
Referee Peter Walton missed the incident, although it served as yet another reminder of how much this young Arsenal side have to learn.