Wenger: hat-trick proves Walcott is a fast learner
Arsenal 6 Blackpool 0
Monday 23 August 2010
"Walcott (3)". Where have we seen that line on the scoresheet before? In Zagreb, on that heady night two years ago when it seemed the boy from Berkshire was destined to make the 2010 World Cup his own.
It did not quite turn out like that, but now Theo Walcott is back, probably. Eviscerating 10-man Blackpool at home is a long way from tearing apart high-class international defences (not a definition which applied to Croatia in late 2008 either), but Saturday's display at the Emirates was nevertheless encouraging. Walcott was not perfect, but he did show the benefits of a proper summer break (thanks, Fabio) and a full pre-season, not a combination he has often enjoyed at Arsenal.
"I had a nice little break mentally and a very good pre-season, which is massive," Walcott said. "I was very unlucky with injuries last season so I'm trying to look after myself a bit more."
Walcott, who had to rescue the match ball from the ballboys – "I nearly forgot, to be honest. I can't believe that" – added: "I'm just raring to go. I'm pretty much one of the last to leave training now. I stay behind to practise crosses and set pieces and stuff like that. It's down to me. I just want to show people what I can do."
Walcott has been criticised for lacking "a football brain" and, said Alan Hansen on Saturday night, "that is not something you can learn". Why not? Walcott is intelligent and under one of the game's best coaches, Arsène Wenger, who said of him: "You always worry about a player's development, but I was always positive about Theo because I have looked at his disappointments, and how well he analyses things. When you are intelligent, you always improve. He's not there yet but he is developing, maybe what happened to him is part of his development.
"I believe he can score goals because when he was young he scored goals, and I am convinced he will finish in the middle. He times his runs well, once he is a yard clear nobody in the world can catch him, and now he is more composed in front of goal."
Amid the fanfare for Walcott, it was easy to overlook the fact his was not the best Arsenal performance of the day. That came from Tomas Rosicky, who deputised for Cesc Fabregas so impressively. Arsenal played with less fluency after the latter came on around the hour mark. Rosicky has suffered even more than Walcott from injury in recent years, making 29 League starts in three seasons.
"I am very happy for Rosicky because he is a great player," Wenger said. "I like to have him on the pitch and in the dressing room because he is an outstanding character, very positive, a team player. He is a very intelligent player and it was not really Rosicky playing last year."
It was Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin who linked to set up Walcott for the first and Rosicky's ball which Marouane Chamakh was running on to when tripped (initially outside the box) by Ian Evatt on the half-hour. Evatt was dismissed, Arshavin converted from the spot and the contest was over.
Ian Holloway disagreed with the decision, although he accepted Arsenal would probably still have won. The Blackpool manager boldly fielded three forwards and encouraged his team to take Arsenal on at a passing game. This was never likely to work but, if he succeeds in securing the discount goalscorer he seeks, it may pay dividends over the season. Blackpool look desperately short of quality and pace, but Holloway is a shrewd tactician and his desire to eschew the percentage game favoured by some of the less-resourced Premier League sides deserves reward.
Either side of half-time, Walcott and Abou Diaby doubled the lead and when Walcott, with his left, made it 5-0 inside the hour, an ever worse rout loomed but Blackpool showed character and were beaten only once more, by Chamakh, whose header from an impressive standing jump suggested he could be a significant figure for Arsenal this season.
So might Jack Wilshere, used at Anfield on opening day in a holding role. "I believe he is strong in a one against one and has good commitment," Wenger said. The prospect arises of Wilshere partnering Jack Rodwell at the anchor of England's midfield in the near future.
The joy felt by Arsenal fans was doubtless tempered when they heard Chelsea had also scored six, again, but Walcott had already stressed the players would not get carried away. He said: "The most important thing is how we play at Blackburn next week. Away. Early kick-off. They are the games we need to be winning, the ones that might have let us down last season. That' s where we have to show our character."
Walcott's goal count
*2005-06: 5 GOALS IN 23 GAMES Under the guidance of Harry Redknapp at Southampton Theo Walcott quickly scored five goals in his debut season for Championship side before he joined Arsenal in January for £9.1m. He didn't play again for the rest of the season, but made Sven Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad.
*2006-07: 1 GOAL IN 32 GAMES
Made Arsenal bow on opening day but scored just once in the whole season, in the 2-1 League Cup final defeat to Chelsea in Cardiff.
*2007-08: 7 GOALS IN 39 GAMES
His most prolific campaign for the Gunners, included two doubles – against Slavia Prague in the 7-0 Champions League group stage demolition and in the 2-2 draw with Birmingham City. n2008-09: 6 GOALS IN 35 GAMES
Scored six goals for Arsenal, plus a memorable hat-trick for England against Croatia in 4-1 victory in Zagreb – they remain his only international goals.
*2009-10: 4 GOALS IN 30 GAMES Produced four goals in injury-hit season, started only 15 games because of knee, back and shoulder problems.
Arsenal 4-3-3: Almunia; Sagna, Song, Vermaelen, Clichy; Diaby (Fabregas, 62), Rosicky, Wilshere; Walcott (Vela, 66), Chamakh, Arshavin (Van Persie, 62). Substitutes not used Fabianski (gk), Djourour, Eboué, Gibbs.
Blackpool 4-3-3: Gilks; Bapiste, Cathcart, Evatt, Crainey; Vaughan, Sylvestre (Keinan, 36), Adam; Taylor-Fletcher (Ormerod, 56), Harewood (Ismael, 56), Grandin. Substitutes not used Halstead (gk), Eardley, Basham, Edwards.
Sent off Evatt (31).
Possession Arsenal 56% Blackpool 44%.
Shots on target Arsenal 13, Blackpool 1.
Referee M Jones (Cheshire).......... Attendance 60,032.
Man of the match Rosicky.
Match rating 8/10.
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