Sunday 25 June 2017

Walcott back in the groove

Theo Walcott is determined to make up for lost time as he aims to stay on the goal trail and help make sure Arsenal's promising season continues to go in the right direction.

The England forward netted a fine individual breakaway effort in last night's Champions League clash against Shakhtar Donetsk at Donbass Arena, only for the Ukrainians to mount a fightback and eventually run out 2-1 winners to go level with the Gunners at top of Group H.

Walcott has just returned from six weeks out because of an ankle injury suffered on international duty during September.

The 21-year-old added a brace in the Carling Cup win at Newcastle to his August hat-trick against Blackpool, and last night's strike took his tally to seven from eight appearances.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has tipped Walcott to eventually finish up in a central role, following the successful transition from winger to frontman of Gunners legend Thierry Henry.

And Walcott - a controversial omission from Fabio Capello's ill-fated World Cup squad - fully intends to soon become the finished article.

"I will play anywhere for the Arsenal, but it is nice to know the manager has got different hopes for me playing up front because for me personally I am a striker," the former Southampton trainee said.

"It is nice to get within the goals because I have tended to miss out at times - I am trying to catch up a bit of time.

"But hopefully in the next couple of years you will see me be up front and I am looking forward to that.

"I have been practising in training and that seems to be paying off, so hopefully I can continue doing that."

Walcott - criticised by BBC pundit Alan Hansen for not having a "football brain" when analysing his treble against Blackpool - feels but for his latest injury set-back, he could already have been in double figures.

"I have had the six weeks with injury this season and without it could have been more, potentially," Walcott said.

"But now I am fit, and I am ready for Sunday's game against Newcastle.

"I am happy I am getting the goals, but I want the team to win, that is the most important thing in the end."

Wenger felt his young side - missing captain Cesc Fabregas who stayed behind to protect a slight hamstring strain, while Russian winger Andrey Arshavin had a virus - showed a touch of complacency after silencing the ferocious home support after only 10 minutes when Walcott latched onto Jack Wilshere's pass to sprint clear of the Shakhtar defence and slot the ball into the bottom corner.

However, the Miners - trashed 5-1 at Emirates Stadium a fortnight ago, but formidable in their own Donbass Arena fortress - responded well and were eventually rewarded when 19-year-old Craig Eastmond, making his European debut, diverted Dmytro Chygrynskiy's header into his own net before former Gunner Eduardo struck at the end of the first half, which proved enough for victory.

Walcott reflected: "It is a tough place to come to and their home record speaks for itself, but getting that early goal, we could have gone on and done a bit better. It didn't really seem to flow.

"We were lucky to go 2-1 down at half-time to be honest. We didn't defend very well.

"We did show spells in the second half where we were the real Arsenal, but they were just better than us."

The Gunners forward, though, believes having quick-thinking players like Wilshere behind him will only serve to create more opportunities to utilise his electric pace.

"Jack is the sort of player who spots those balls," Walcott said. "All he has got to do is knock it into space for me and I will always get onto it. We have got a nice bit of bonding going on there."

Eduardo, sold in the summer by Arsenal, had also been on the scoresheet at Emirates Stadium, and again did not celebrate when netting against his old club last night.

The Brazil-born Croatian striker, who fought his way back to full fitness following a broken leg in February 2008, said: "The most important thing is we won the game and took the three points.

"I always want to score goals. I was happy, it was special."

Press Association

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