Arsenal vs Aston Villa: Theo Walcott's performance was a lesson for Jack Grealish

Achievement in football demands far more than one semi-final day in the sun

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One of them is suddenly being touted as a teenage wonder, the other has been through all that and come out the other side, even if some still doubt whether he has reached full maturity. Yesterday Aston Villa’s 19-year-old Jack Grealish learnt a lesson that achievement in football demands far more than one semi-final day in the sun.

His evening clouded over from the start and he was eclipsed as comprehensively as his team. Meanwhile, Theo Walcott, taken to a World Cup at 17, reiterated the point he had made to Arsène Wenger with a hat-trick in little more than half an hour against West Bromwich Albion last weekend: that he could have a future as a striker.

Timing is everything and a lovely cameo against Sunderland, injecting some much needed pace, and then those three goals – after Arsenal had gone four and a half hours without one on home turf – persuaded the manager to leave his compatriot Olivier Giroud in the plush substitutes’ seats for 75 minutes and give Walcott his dearest wish.


A previous hat-trick, in the extraordinary 7-5 League Cup win at Reading in 2012, actually came as a winger, but prompted Wenger to suggest: “I always said that he will be a striker. He has the qualities to play there.”

Walcott just did not get much of a chance to, although the manager has pointed out that he was in that role when suffering the cruel injury against Tottenham 16 months ago that kept him out until last November.

Once Arsenal remembered the futility of the long ball forward yesterday, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil were soon opening up Villa in the way they had eviscerated Albion while Walcott’s movement offered a focal point.

That movement and sense of space took him five minutes before half-time onto the wing, setting Nacho Monreal away outside him, then into just the right spot, unmarked, when Alexis Sanchez knocked a header across goal; his left foot was safe and the celebration jubilant. 

Denied an earlier goal when his side-footed volley was blocked by Kieran Richardson, he continued to threaten Jores  Okore and Ron Vlaar by playing on their shoulder and twisting through the middle. Only Okore’s recovering tackle and later a miscued finish prevented his second, before making way for Giroud. 

But long before that Grealish must have realised he was not to emulate his great-great grandfather, a Cup winner with Villa all of 110 years ago. His day may come but this was not it.