Thursday, September 29, 2016

It's all yellow for Arsenal as Walcott shines brightly again

If the site of Arsenal wearing yellow at home was a strange one, it is increasingly becoming less bizarre to see Theo Walcott making major contributions to every aspect of Arsenal’s game. On Wednesday night as Basel were swept aside at the Emirates, the English winger was at the heart of the Gunners’ free-flowing attacking display as they continued where they left off against Chelsea on Saturday.
The transformation of Walcott has been one of the most notable things in some eye-catching Arsenal performances in recent games. They’ve been performances that have put smiles on the faces of supporters because of the exciting and irresistible play from Arsene Wenger’s team. In the space of two home games, the Emirates has become an incredibly happy place to be again. In both matches, Arsenal have come flying out of the blocks, scored an early goal and then controlled the game, played it at their tempo and then opened up the opposition almost at will. 
Unsurprisingly, Arsene Wenger kept faith with the front four that had dismantled Chelsea and unleashed them on Basel on Wednesday. Iwobi probed and linked play, Ozil glided majestically between the lines to carry a constant threat while Alexis and Walcott provided the cut and thrust to carve out openings at breath-taking speed. The opening goal came as Alexis broke the offside trap, lifted a perfect cross into the centre and Walcott steamed into the middle to nod home. The same combination linked up for the second goal as Walcott played a one-two with Alexis before firing across the goalkeeper and in off the post.
The goals take Walcott to four goals in his last three games, but it’s more than just his goal-scoring that is grabbing attention. His overall involvement in matches is far greater than usual as he is getting more touches, playing more passes and even getting involved in more 50/50 duels. Even if his form drops off slightly from this extremely high peak, he now has the last few games as a blueprint for how he can contribute to the team. Walcott no longer looks like a lost winger desperate to be a centre-forward. As much as it was met with some derision when he stated in the summer that he viewed himself as a winger again, it does seem to have cleared his mind and allowed him to really focus on his game. While it does feel like we’ve been waiting an eternity for Theo to properly ‘make it’, it’s better late than never to have come now. He’s playing superbly and deserves great credit for it. Keep it up, Theo.
Walcott is being helped by Alexis improving in the central role next to him. Just when it seemed like the experiment of the Chilean as the main man was failing miserably, he has started to make the role his own. He’s not drifting away from the middle as much to get the ball, instead leaving Ozil, Iwobi and Cazorla to create the brilliance from deep, leaving him free to link-up play at the sharp end, as he did for Walcott’s second goal, and stretch the defence and make space for the multitude of attacking runners from that Arsenal have at the moment. The only thing lacking from Alexis on Wednesday was a goal. A combination of good keeping and slightly slack finishing meant that he couldn’t cap another excellent display with a consecutive home goal, but you get the sense it’ll only drive him on to improve on his already high standard.
In truth, the score could have been anything at half-time. In the second half, Arsenal did understandably drop the intensity slightly, especially after their efforts on Saturday, but still created enough chances to completely kill off the game. David Ospina was called into action to tip a shot from outside the box over the bar, and he then got in a slight muddle from a couple of corners, but that was the only threat posed by the Swiss visitors, who got a fairly chastening lesson for the majority of the game.
The last week has felt like a return to the first half of Arsene Wenger’s reign at the club, when regularly teams would arrive at Arsenal, get pummelled early on in the game and then not be able to recover from being dazzled by the pace, power and precision of the football played by the Gunners. The last two games in that sense, have been almost the closest Arsenal team to resemble the Invincibles since the stadium move. They are making football look relatively easy at the moment, so after such a stunning week, complacency must be avoided. It has been a good run of form, but it has to continue in the coming months for this promising, confident and exciting team to properly be mentioned in the same breath as Wenger’s best sides. But based purely on what we’ve seen this season, I really like where this team is going.