Match Report: Perfect student Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores full marks with a stunning hat-trick in Newcastle hammering
Arsenal 7 Newcastle United 3: The Arsenal striker, currently being coached by Gunners legend Thierry Henry, scores hat-trick in a 10-goal thriller against weary Newcastle
Given that these two teams have been involved in matches this season that have finished 7-5, 5-2 and 4-3, another feast of goals and dreadful defending was perhaps only to be expected, if not on this epic scale.
Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick and created two goals for late substitute Olivier Giroud as Arsenal recorded their fourth successive League win to calm any talk of a crisis at the club. That said, there were aspects of their display, especially at the back, that will haunt Arsène Wenger, their manager. Newcastle equalised three times, two of the goals scored by Demba Ba, before running out of steam as Arsenal scored three times in the last six minutes.
Walcott, though, made the headlines and made his case for continuing to play in the central position he prefers, and for which he is being coached by the former Arsenal forward Thierry Henry. Although his performance was the usual mixture of rich promise and frustration, his claim on the man-of-the-match award was unanswerable. "I've learned from the best," he said. "I enjoy playing in whatever position but I've asked the manager to play me the centre. It's another option and I hope I've opened some eyes."
Wenger hailed Walcott, whose contract expires in summer. "It typifies what I think he can do," he said. "He can play in the centre, and he can only get stronger in that role.
"He has learned a lot because he is an intelligent player. The intensity of my desire [to extend his contract] is the same as before the game. He belongs here. I think he loves the club and the club loves him."
You suspected that Newcastle might be stung into a good performance by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's dismissal of them on Friday as "a wee club in the North-east," but their injury-hit squad could not last the pace. While they were losing 4-3 to United at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, Arsenal were resting after their match fell victim to the Tube strike, and it showed.
"At 3-3 we should have shut up shop, but we couldn't," Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, said. "The difference in energy levels was evident by the end, and the fourth goal knocked the wind out of our sails."
Arsenal went ahead when Lukas Podolski played the ball down the left for Walcott, who had timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap and ran on before cutting in and producing a clinical finish, Henry, watching from the stand, joined in the applause for his willing pupil. "That was a Thierry Henry-type goal," Wenger said.
The other side of Walcott came to the fore in a scuffed shot straight to Tim Krul and a misplaced pass when Santi Cazorla was well-placed to double the lead, and instead of being two up, Arsenal were pegged back when Ba's free-kick on the edge of Arsenal's penalty was deflected past the wrong-footed Wojciech Szczesny off the back of Jack Wilshere's head, the midfield man having turned meekly away from the ball.
Arsenal, though, retook the lead five minutes after the restart as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain interrupted the Walcott show, shooting low past Krul from 20 yards. But limp defending cost Arsenal again after 59 minutes as Gabriel Obertan beat Bacary Sagna with embarrassing ease on the left and his low pass rolled across the goal to Silvain Marveaux, who had sauntered into the penalty area and tapped in from a yard out.
Wilshere then chipped in a left-foot cross that Fabricio Coloccini could only head against his own crossbar, Podolski nodding in the rebound from point-blank range. But that Arsenal defence gave the lead away yet again after 69 minutes, Marveaux crossing with the outside of his left foot for Ba to escape the ball-watching Kieran Gibbs and stab home, a goal that may increase the number of suitors keen to activate the buy-out clause in his contract.
But back came Arsenal. Four minutes later Podolski found Gibbs, and his cut-back reached Walcott, who turned through almost 360 degrees and fired into the roof of the net to put his side ahead for good. Five minutes from time, Walcott turned provider, crossing for substitute Giroud to head home then passing for the Frenchman to fire in with his right foot.
Walcott added the final flourish, dancing past four demoralised defenders and dinking the ball past Krul to complete his hat-trick and a remarkable evening.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla (Coquelin, 86), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Giroud, 74); Podolski (Ramsey, 82), Walcott.
Newcastle (4-4-2): Krul; Simpson (Ferguson, 82), Coloccini, Perch, Santon; Obertan, Bigirimana (Shola Ameobi, 82), Tiote, Marveaux (Tavernier, 88); Ba, Cissé.
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the match: Walcott (Arsenal).
Match rating: 8/10
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