Wenger admits he was close to substituting Walcott
Published 27/02/2012 | 10:43
Wenger considered substituting Walcott before he scored because of the abuse from Arsenal fans.
With Arsenal trailing 2-0 until the 40th minute, Walcott was the focus for considerable frustration from the home supporters and it appeared that all the negativity had undermined his confidence.
Wenger, though, stuck with Walcott and was rewarded with precise finishes in the 65th and 68th minutes that ultimately sealed a memorable victory.
They were Walcott’s first Premier League goals at the Emirates since December 2010.
“The crowd were starting to get on his back and you wonder if you’re doing him a favour if you leave him on,” said Wenger.
“But I felt that he has the qualities that, considering the rest of the team were hiding, he can be straight and go behind the defenders and nobody else is like that.
"He is a very direct player. He can miss a first touch but, considering the balance of the team, it was important to keep him in the side.”
Harry Redknapp gave Walcott his debut at Southampton when he was just 16 and said that the behaviour of the Arsenal fans was symptomatic of the fickleness in football.
“That’s football, isn’t it?” said Redknapp. “People are fickle. Theo’s a good player, a player of real talent. He ran 80 yards to get on to the ball for the third goal.”
Walcott admitted that he had endured a poor first half but said that he shut out the criticism.
“You always have to get on with the game,” he said.
“When things are not going too well, I can hold my hands up and say I didn’t have the greatest of first halves.
"But it just shows the character, not just me but the team. Coming off looking at the result felt unreal.”
Robin van Persie admitted that he was baffled by the criticism of his team-mate.
“If you speak about Theo, I think it’s funny he gets so many critics,” he said.
“He gave me loads of assists and I know and everyone knows he can score. He showed that in this game, he scored two goals and will score more. I said a couple of weeks ago he will score 20 goals – and he will, trust me.”
Wenger also praised the rest of his team, describing their performance as “perfect” after they went one goal behind during a nervous opening five minutes.
“It showed that Arsenal is alive more than anyone thought before the game,” said Wenger.
“The performance today, on the spirit, the technical side, the drive of the whole team and the style of the way we want to play was there.
"Everything was perfect despite a very bad start. We were a bit nervous at the start. It was all us for the next 85 minutes.”
Wenger also took a swipe at the quality of the pitches that Arsenal faced in losing consecutive Champions League and FA Cup matches at AC Milan and then Sunderland.
“It’s the first time in three games we’ve played on a football pitch that is really a football pitch,” he said.
Arsenal’s victory reduces their gap to third-placed Tottenham to seven points, with Wenger still adamant that his team can overhaul their closest rivals.
“Before the game it was ‘impossible’ but I always thought it was possible,” said Wenger.
“If we continue to play like that, then why not? It would be down to consistency. For us, it’s vital not to lose players.”
Arsenal, though, have fresh worries over Thomas Vermaelen and Tomas Rosicky, who suffered respective ankle and back injuries on Sunday.
Both players are likely to be withdrawn from international duty this week and are major doubts for the match against Liverpool next Saturday.
Van Persie has also confirmed that talks over potentially extending his Arsenal contract will not resume until the end of the season.