It would be preferable to discuss something other than Theo Walcott in this post-match piece, seeing as pretty much every look at the game is bound to focus on the hat-trick hero of Saturday’s 7-3 bonanza between Arsenal and Newcastle.
However, considering that Walcott’s fantastic show was by far the most remarkable performance of the evening, it’d almost be unfair to pick anything else to scrutinise in this report.
It’s amusing, and certainly indicative of the ridiculous reactionary culture of football these days, that after Walcott selfishly shot wide from 25 yards in the second half, having spurned a couple of other good opportunities in the first half, that there were cries of “OH YOU’RE S**T WALCOTT” and “GET HIM OFF!” from a couple of Arsenal fans.
Those same individuals were later lauding his fantastic finishing display as he stuck three past the Magpies in an extraordinary end-to-end game (even if the main action of the last 25 minutes was only really down one end).
It would be easy to write Walcott off as a striker if his goals had been tap-ins, but they were all of excellent quality. The first was a quite clearly Henry-esque goal, taken calmly after a perfectly curved run past the defence. The second saw composure under pressure and a superb finish into the roof of the net. The hat-trick was sealed after he sprung up having been fouled halfway through a dazzling run before casually dinking the ball over Tim Krul.
The English forward has been stating his case in the media for some time now, insisting that his future lies in the centre, and Arsène Wenger has never disagreed with that, rather insisting that Walcott would need time to mature. It appears his time has now come, after three consecutive starts in the position have borne four goals.
Not only that, but Walcott laid on three assists in that period too. He won an admittedly soft penalty at Wigan, while against Newcastle he laid on both of Olivier Giroud’s goals. The second of Giroud’s was scored after Walcott’s run saw the ball land at the Frenchman’s feet, with the first assist far more impressive given the first-time nature of Walcott’s first time whipped cross.
It would appear that Walcott’s time on the wing has educated him well in terms of making runs – having played out wide, he now knows what sort of run a wide player will want him to make when he plays in the centre. Yet again Arsène Wenger’s long-term vision seems to be bearing fruit.
Besides Walcott, what was interesting was the manner in which Arsenal scored their goals. At home they’ve been often frustrated by disciplined defences, while here, not only did they take advantage of space left by Newcastle, but they turned defence into attack quickly, and were clinical and concise with their use of the ball.
This additional space could be put down to Newcastle being tired, and this certainly played some part in the ease with which Arsenal kept scoring. Still, you can only beat what’s in front of you, and the intensity with which Arsenal attacked will certainly be encouraging for Arsène Wenger.
On the other hand, the lack of balance between attack and defence is something that needs to be worked on. This is something Wenger’s addressed publicly – he recently said that Arsenal need to combine the attacking flair they showed against Reading with the defensive resilience on show at Wigan. At the Emirates on Saturday, this didn’t happen.
A potential solution might be in replacing Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard was a reliable unsung hero of Arsenal’s midfield alongside Alex Song last season, but this year appears to be struggling a little trying to do all of the defensive work while Wilshere and Cazorla burst forward. More than competent in a midfield pivot Arteta may be, but as a lone defensive midfielder? I’m not quite sure.
If Arsenal do want to continue with Cazorla and Wilshere in midfield – which they surely do – they may have to replace Arteta with a pure defensive midfielder. Arteta is fine – tactically intelligent, willing to get stuck in and composed – but just doesn’t possess the engine or the defensive abilities to shield the defence on his own.
Of course, the midfield balance isn’t the only problem. The defensive errors need to be cut out soon – twice Arsenal allowed a Newcastle player to sneak in at the back post, and this surely needs to be eradicated. Still, in such a frantic game you kind of want to say “Sod the defence,” and focus on the goals. Because who doesn’t love goals?