Tuesday 23 January 2018

Walcott: Cup triumph a stepping stone to challenge for title

Theo Walcott lifts the FA Cup
Theo Walcott lifts the FA Cup

Jeremy Wilson

Arsenal believe that a second successive FA Cup win can act as a springboard to toppling Chelsea as Premier League champions, despite Arsene Wenger's warning that he would not be competing for the world's most expensive players this summer.

Wenger has a transfer budget of around £50m but he believes that he now already has the basis of a first title-winning squad since 2004 and the Arsenal manager will focus on adding two or three players of world-class quality.

Chelsea's Petr Cech and Southampton's Morgan Schneiderlin have been most consistently monitored over recent months but Wenger is also determined to maintain cohesion and build on the internal momentum of a second trophy in two years.

There were raucous celebrations on a victory parade around the streets of north London yesterday following a party at the Libertine club in central London that, for some players, lasted until around 6am in the morning.

Jack Wilshere, who was a 77th-minute substitute on Saturday and will join the England squad on Wednesday, appeared in sunglasses following his night out.

As he did last year, he also grasped the microphone during celebrations to sing anti-Tottenham songs with the Arsenal fans.

The club were completely relaxed with Wilshere's behaviour and the repeated wider message was that this was only the beginning of a new era of trophy-winning success. Jose Mourinho's Chelsea are the unmistakable target.

"This team has enormous character and I think great potential looking forward," said chief executive Ivan Gazidis.

"There is a tremendous feeling that this is the beginning of something, that this is a platform and we are very excited about what we can do with this team.

"We have had players along the way whose character has been tested and questioned. It's brilliant the way the club is coming together."

For all his celebrations and obvious joy yesterday at another medal, Wilshere admitted to his disappointment at not starting and knows that he now faces a major challenge to reclaim his status in Wenger's best team.

"I'm a boy who wants to play football, so of course I wanted to start the game but I sort of saw it coming," he said.

"The team has been playing well and if you look through the team there wasn't anyone who the boss could drop. The competition is ferocious and it's going to be the same next season. I'm there to accept the competition and fight for my place.

"I haven't played a lot this season and my fitness levels are still on the way up. I'll go away with England, hopefully get some game time, and we'll reassess next season."

The collective goal is to start strongly and mount a lasting title challenge. Wilshere also believes that Wenger is now more relaxed after winning further silverware.

"That first trophy in 10 years was a big mental boost," he said. "The big one for us is the Premier League. We've progressed. Next year we feel that we can really push Chelsea, City and United for the title.

"I think this season we've made a big step mentally. I remember in previous years going to big games, Man United, City, Chelsea, thinking: 'Have we really got a chance today?' But this year from the first big game we did well. That's a big step that we needed."

Asked if Arsenal could now turn this victory into an era of success, Theo Walcott said: "It's got to be. It has got to be a stepping stone to challenge for the title. That is the ultimate goal, that's what all these kids dream of and, for the fans, we need to do it for them. They have waited a long time."

Wenger is confident about keeping the main core of this squad together. There will, however, be peripheral departures, with Abou Diaby now likely to be released and the club open to offers for Lukas Podolski, Carl Jenkinson and Mathieu Flamini. Tomas Rosicky and Arteta have provisionally agreed new one-year deals.


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