Monday 11 December 2017

Walcott makes case to be Gunners' lead man

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City

Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal
Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates scoring the opening goal
Arsenal's Theo Walcott stares down Stoke's Jack Butland
Arsenal's Hector Bellerin attempts to steal the ball from Stoke's Marko Arnautovic
Arsenal's Petr Cech celebrates at the end of the match

Ben Findon

Just like waiting for those London buses on the Holloway Road outside the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal followers had fretted through their side's goalless start to the home campaign, obsessing about the lack of output from their diminished band of forwards.

Then, swinging into view, came Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, delivering two examples of the striker's art to send spirits soaring ahead of a crucial 10 days on three fronts.

Walcott, given the starting role by Arsene Wenger, who had banked on the England forward's pace to slice open a well-manned Stoke City rearguard, ran clear to slot past the goalkeeper Jack Butland just after the half-hour. Giroud, who took over for the last 15 minutes, clipped home a textbook near-post header from Santi Cazorla's late free-kick.


Suddenly, the failure to strengthen the strike-force in the summer transfer window and the ill-timed injury for Danny Welbeck seemed less likely to undermine a season that will take shape with visits to Zagreb (Champions League), Chelsea (Premier League) and Tottenham Hotspur (League Cup).

Walcott, so often deployed on the flanks, can now expect many more calls to play through his favoured central route to goal.

Wenger said: "Considering our situation, in the coming months you could say he will be more through the middle."

Music to Walcott's ears, though he also erred with a couple of scoring chances. "I created a lot of chances - I probably should have taken more, I know. I will study my performance, but there's no point being down in the dumps," he said.

As for his first Arsenal goal of the season: "It was probably the hardest chance of them all."

Wenger accepts that Walcott is not yet the finished article. "You become an instinctive finisher once you have a bag of goals behind you and he needs a few more goals, a little bit more spontaneously," he said." He is quick and he gets into good little pockets. He is the whole player."

Victory moved Arsenal into the top four, five points behind leaders Manchester City, and Walcott had a coded warning for Chelsea. "You can sense Chelsea are starting to struggle, but I'm sure they are going to bounce back from this," he said.

"We are starting to get to where we want to be. And when we do hit that, people will be more and more worried."

Arsenal would have been celebrating a goal glut had it not been for the heroics of Butland, who once again produced a man-of-the-match performance that underlined his credentials as Joe Hart's England deputy.

His most pressing concern, though, is with the rest of his team, who rarely threatened Arsenal in a performance which left them in the bottom three.

It meant a comfortable afternoon for Arsenal's rearguard, who are still without Per Mertersacker. Wenger revealed the German had been bed-ridden for with a chest infection but was now back in training.

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