The Gunners showed patience and perseverance to break down a well-organised home side, Mathieu Flamini opening the scoring a minute before half-time before second-half efforts from Emmanuel Adebayor and Alex Hleb made sure of victory.
Nicky Shorey pulled back a late consolation goal for the Royals, but the goal could not deny Arsenal their return to the summit.
Reading, wary of the continual threat of Arsenal and the 4-0 hiding they received in this fixture last year, set up to contain and frustrate, but with a clear intention to break with pace and determination whenever they got the chance.
That was easier said than done, and Arsenal served notice of their class as early as the fourth minute, Adebayor shaving the outside of a post after Tomas Rosicky had caught James Harper in possession in midfield.
Reading's chances were few and far between, but they were unlucky not to take the lead midway through the first half when Brynjar Gunnarsson, employed as a holding midfielder, thumped a stinging half-volley that Manuel Almunia theatrically pushed away.
But the home side's spirited tactical resistance came apart at the seams a minute before half-time when they sensed an opening from a corner, only to be outstripped with a devastating counter-attack.
Gunnarsson's tackle on Rosicky rolled kindly for Emmanuel Eboue and the ball travelled smoothly through Adebayor then Hleb and into Flamini, who beat Ibrahima Sonko to the ball to add a scruffy finish to a sophisticated build-up.
It was Flamini's first league goal in more than a year, but he nearly added a second five minutes into the second half, forcing Marcus Hahnemann to push his low shot round a post.
But the second goal was not long in coming and again it was a sweet move, Adebayor and Rosicky exchanging passes before Cesc Fabregas teed up Adebayor for a sidefoot finish that he threaded through a crowd of players and inside the far post.
Hleb added a third 11 minutes from time, teasing Hahnemann into committing himself before stepping into space and firing home a shot that Sonko could not stop on the line.
But the home side deserved something for their efforts and it came in the form of a late consolation from England full-back Shorey.
Substitute Shane Long nearly scored, his header forcing Almunia to push the ball against the inside of a post, but the rebound fell kindly for Shorey to sidefoot into an empty net, as the home side had the last word on an entertaining night.