Walcott finds his Zagreb zest when he needs it most


The Emirates Stadium

Arsenal were treated to a series of reversals yesterday. They overturned a two-goal lead, overwhelmed their opponents in midfield, cut a 10-point deficit by three and staunched a flow of criticism and discontent. The rousing comeback also inspired the very best of Theo Walcott, cleansing him of his doubts and fears, bringing out of him the lethal forward only rarely witnessed since his Zagreb hat-trick three and a half years ago.

For many at the Emirates, Walcott represents what most frustrates them about the last few years at Arsenal: the skittishness, the nervousness, the sense of unfulfilled promise. He is blamed for much that goes wrong here, and the fans' preference for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain suggests a feeling that his chance at Arsenal is already passing.

Walcott's start did little to persuade his doubters otherwise. When Arsenal were two down he was almost through on goal but, showing his characteristic faltering nerve, squared the ball to Robin van Persie, and the attack collapsed. The fans were exasperated, and let him know it. Wenger admitted he considered mercifully withdrawing him. "The crowd was starting to get on his back, and you wonder if you do him a favour if you leave him on," he said.

But Arsène Wenger is famously patient. He added: "He is a player who can be straight, go behind the defenders, and nobody else is like that. Considering the balance of our team I felt it was important to keep him in the side."

On a different day it could have ended in tears, and more mutinous eruptions from the fans. But this was a remarkable afternoon, Arsenal's best home performance since that famous defeat of Barcelona one year and10 days ago.

Wenger's players fought like they knew how high the stakes were: not just Champions League football next season, and not even north London supremacy, as important as they are, but the credible future of their manager.

Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky ran and hassled and tackled like they knew this. They were level before Rosicky exchanged passes with Bacary Sagna and tucked Arsenal into the lead.

The atmosphere had reversed. Last year Tottenham were 2-0 down in this game and won 3-2. But this took 11 minutes of play, not 35. And, just as the crowd's negativity can infect Walcott, so too can the opposite. After an hour, Walcott charged back down the right-wing, tracking Benoit Assou-Ekotto before dispossessing him with a tackle. The crowd roared approval.

Walcott was transformed; not the frustrator of Arsenal's best hopes but their carrier. Rather than being scared of important opportunities, he was desperate for them. Kieran Gibbs stole the ball from Gareth Bale, telling enough in itself, and Rosicky played it up to Van Persie, who held off Ledley King and Younes Kaboul.

Walcott tore forward from nowhere, received the pass from his captain and chipped Brad Friedel. If there was any confusion, caution or self-doubt in him, he did not show it.

Even at futuristic, scientific Arsenal, momentum and confidence can still be overwhelming. And, three minutes later, Walcott repeated the trick. This time Alex Song won the ball in midfield, Walcott ran in behind Kaboul, received the pass and fired into the far bottom corner. Half an hour earlier it would have been unthinkable. Now it felt inevitable.

When Rosicky cut in from the right and played a deft one-two with Walcott, you wondered what had become of the stumbling imprecisions of the first half. When Walcott was given a rapturous standing ovation with nine minutes left, you wondered what had become of the exasperated masses.

The answer is this was a Walcott fuelled by inspirational team-mates. "It shows the character of the team," he said. "If you work hard hopefully good things will come to you."

Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning


Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Arts and Entertainment
A top literary agent has compared online giant Amazon to Isis
arts + entsAndrew Wylie has pulled no punches in criticism of Amazon
Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities