Wenger's new model finally taking shape
Arsenal 7 Newcastle Utd 3
Contract talks between Arsenal and Theo Walcott's representatives will resume in early January with the aim of thrashing out a new deal that meets the player's expectations and allows him to continue his striking development at the Emirates.
Discussions are expected to begin sometime in the next fortnight, with Walcott's position strengthened by his devastating hat-trick in the 7-3 defeat of Newcastle, a timely reminder of his ability in the central striking role he covets.
With Walcott in the last year of his contract and free to talk to suitors from New Year's Day the issue has become pressing for Arsenal, and Arsene Wenger said after this game that retaining the forward was his priority for January.
Talks have been deadlocked since Walcott was repeatedly left out on the bench through September and October, and only played in his less-favoured wide role once he was restored to the side in November.
Only in the last three matches has Wenger offered Walcott the chance to prove himself in the central role, and he has responded with four goals, three of them in a wild encounter against Newcastle that proved a showcase for his talents. It also gave his team-mates an opportunity to urge him to stay, with some making the point in writing on the match ball he left with.
Walcott's priority remains to hear what Arsenal will offer before considering overtures from other clubs. Both Chelsea and Manchester City courted his signature in the summer, and can be expected to resume their interest, along with Liverpool, should he not sign an extension at the Emirates.
For now Wenger says he remains committed to keeping a forward who he says "belongs" at the Emirates. Asked if he was confident that in Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Gervinho he has forwards of leading Arsenal's challenge for Europe, he said: "I'm confident, yes. But let's keep first those we have, that is the first target."
Few who were at the Emirates would argue that Walcott would not leave a hole after a performance that won approval from the two benchmarks for any Arsenal forward, Ian Wright and Thierry Henry.
Both of whom appear convinced of Walcott's ability to lead the line, with Wright claiming on Saturday he has held the view for five years, and Henry present to watch a first goal reminiscent of his own trademark.
The Frenchman has long been Walcott's model, and a similar transformation from winger to prolific centre-forward is what he has in mind for the middle years of his career. His first goal on Saturday was pure Henry as he sprang the Newcastle offside trap with a bending run and guided a finish with his right in-step across Tim Krul.
After a composed lofted finish for his second, the third was as audacious as the first was clinical. Weaving past three defenders he ignored a foul that brought him to his knees to spring up and dink the ball over Krul.
There are still edges to be refined – a better left foot than Walcott's would have dispatched a second goal soon after the first – but when he shows such poise it seems churlish to focus on the minor flaws in an exuberant display.
While Walcott shone, the result was harsh on Newcastle, who exposed Arsenal's defence, despite weariness and a threadbare squad. This was their eighth defeat in 10 league games but offered reasons for optimism as they traded goals until being over-run in the final 20 minutes.
Cheick Tiote and Sylvain Marveaux offered fight and flair respectively, and Demba Ba's two goals offered a reminder why Wenger is among those who have enquired about a forward who may end the week at Chelsea.
Ba could have had two more had he been more efficient with free headers, and the Arsenal defence was badly exposed for all three of Newcastle's goals. Wenger admitted the "crazy" result was a concern, but called for patience with an emerging team.
"We have seen some craziness yes, but I don't know why it has been that way. People have been very impatient with us we have rebuilt the team and we started well and after that we stuttered. Now we have come back. We had to rebuild the team and we have done it. It demands some understanding. How good we are will be decided in the next four or five months.
"The technical quality of the Premier League teams has improved and it is more difficult to stop them from playing. Maybe we are a team that is less built to stop others from playing. We are a technical side so going forward we look like we can create something.
"The only thing we can do is play and play and play again. And take the initiative and go for it and go for the way that we believe that football should be played. After that you can win and lose in football, especially in the modern game." (© Daily Telegraph, London)