Sunday, May 24, 2015

Walcott puts his hand up for Wembley

After three scoreless games at home, there was a worrying sense that the season was petering out for Arsenal, which was a big concern given there is still a cup final to play. But all of the frustration that built up on Wednesday evening as the Gunners couldn’t break through a stubborn Sunderland side was blasted away as Arsenal rampaged their way through West Bromwich Albion in the first half of the final league match of the season, and certain players made a strong case for inclusion in the FA Cup Final starting XI.
Leading the charge was Theo Walcott. Olivier Giroud has looked slightly off the pace in recent weeks, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see Walcott given an opportunity by Arsene Wenger to play as the main striker, especially as the Englishman was lively in his cameo against Sunderland. Walcott can often look ineffective as the main striker if the opposition sit deep and don’t allow the space to run in behind he defence, and I was worried that might be the case against Tony Pulis’ West Brom. But Walcott dispelled those doubts with a cracking opening goal. On receiving the ball on the right of the penalty area, he instinctively thundered the ball over Boaz Myhill and in via the bar. It was a real statement goal from Walcott.
He followed that up with a well-taken second goal, showing quick footwork in the box to engineer the space to poke the ball under Myhill. West Brom’s defending was very static, despite being relatively deep, and Walcott was able to dance around the challenges.
With confidence flowing through the Arsenal team, the lead increased to three as Jack Wilshere submitted his late entry for the ‘Release the Kraken THRIKER of the Season’ award. Receiving the ball from a lay-off just outside the box, Wilshere produced a stonking shot that almost ripped the net out of the ground. Myhill could only wave at the ball on its way past into the top corner.
More chances were created as Walcott and Alexis Sanchez had further sights of goal, before a typically well-crafted passing move finished with Santi Cazorla’s cross-shot being poked in from a yard out for Theo Walcott’s first half hat-trick. 4-0 at half-time didn’t flatter a dominant Arsenal.
Predictably, the Gunners dropped the intensity in the second half, and West Brom did sneak a goal back following some strange flapping at a corner from David Ospina. At the end of the game, he almost spilled a long-range shot into his net, meaning there are still more questions than answers about goalkeeping situation for next season.
While it’s pretty much certain that Wojciech Szczsny will play between the sticks at Wembley, the rest of the team is slightly more unknown, especially after the encouraging performances of Walcott and Wilshere. Aaron Ramsey, probably slightly fearful of his own cup final place, came on the second half and looked hell-bent on scoring with a serious of excellent forward bursts in a lively cameo. He was incredibly unlucky to see two shots come back off the post, the second of which was brilliantly saved by Myhill.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain got minutes off the bench when it’d been expected that we might not see him again this season. He’s had an impressive season, and was one of the main positives in the slightly random form earlier in the campaign. After Walcott’s goal-laden burst on Sunday, it’s likely that the Ox will only be needed as a substitute, but it’s another good option for Arsene Wenger to have at his disposal at Wembley.
West Brom didn’t really have anything to play for, and there want too much pressure on Arsenal, but even though the cup final will be a completely different beast, it was great to see Arsenal get some zip and clinical finishing back in their attacking. It was a good end to a satisfactury season, and confirmed Arsenal finished a place higher than the previous campaign to secure a Champions League group stage place. Ultimately though, it will be events at Wembley on Saturday that will determine if this season is deemed a successful one or not.