Arsenal are currently riding a high wave. After their crushing 3-0 win over Manchester United right before the international break, it has all been sunny in the red half of north London. The club currently sit second in the league table, only two points behind Manchester City, who not too long ago were running away with the Premier League title.
Things had taken a turn for the better for Arsenal, after City succumbed to two losses on the bounce against West Ham and Tottenham to let the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United join the title race, which the Sky Blues threatened to make a non-event of. The Gunners, who were themselves on the edge of a crisis, responded in style with the win over United, and optimism is presently on an all-time high.
And part of that can be attributed to Theo Walcott. The 26-year-old’s upturn in form and fortune can be seen as a massive helping hand to Arsene Wenger’s side after the summer transfer window fiasco that left the club with only Olivier Giroud as the other striking alternative to Walcott. Danny Welbeck is nursing a long-term knee injury, while the likes of Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi are little more than shoo-ins for the less consequential games.
Walcott has scored four goals and provided four assists this season; he has already equalled his last season’s goals and assists tally and we are only in October. It is true that injuries played a big part in his non-involvement last term, but this season, the England international has been anything other than motivated. He also found the net for the Three Lions during the international break, albeit in an inconsequential game against Estonia.
Walcott has earned rave reviews for his electric displays, thoughts echoed by Gunners centre-back Per Mertesacker. “It is a different position that what he played before on the wing,” Mertesacker told Arsenal’s official website of Walcott, who this season has played more centrally than the previous years. In six of his seven appearances in the league, Walcott has been deployed as the centre forward.
The big German is impressed with Walcott’s central shifts, and believes the central role suits him better as his runs into the pockets and his pacey presence on the shoulders of the opposition centre-backs will force them backwards, a scary prospect according to Mertesacker.
“In the centre he is always one against two, so he needs to find his way and his spaces and the pockets where he can be dangerous. That will always be more in behind [the defence], forcing [the opposition] to go back because they will always be scared, if Theo plays up front, of the space in behind,” he added.
While Alexis Sanchez is the talk of the town for obvious reasons, as is Mesut Ozil, the last third of Arsenal’s attacking trident has also played a key role in Arsenal’s recent resurgence. Walcott’s presence up top is key to the Gunners’ attacking orientations. While in the presence of Olivier Giroud as the central striker, the wide interchanges were almost always on the left with Ozil and Sanchez, Walcott’s influence has made Arsenal more fluid in the attacking third with pace and movement all around the opponents’ defensive third.
That Walcott has come of age as a proper centre forward is too early to judge at this moment in time, as Arsenal are one of a number of clubs notorious for getting carried away a bit too quickly, but Wenger’s continued perseverance with Walcott has started to bear fruit. Whether that sticks for the longer term remains to be seen, but Arsenal’s gain surely will be England’s gain too. With all the injury-prone and out of form striking options at the Three Lions’ disposal, Walcott’s emergence will be a welcome boost for Roy Hodgson and co.
Staying with Mertesacker and Walcott, the two celebrate Arsenal’s big wins in peculiar fashion. They jump and bump backs on the pitch after wins, something which was seen in that win over United. Mertesacker feels such moments are key in maintaining the bond between the players.
“It reminds us always that [games are] hard work, but we enjoy ourselves, we enjoy playing together and trust each other. Small details makes this squad a special one. We are looking forward to having some good celebrations after the game,” the German said.
Things are certainly looking up for Arsenal at the moment, and Saturday’s league clash against newly-promoted Watford will be a measure of the team spirit within the squad. With the all-important Champions League tie against Bayern Munich on the horizon, the Gunners could ill afford a slip at this stage of the season.
Positive Injury News
Ahead of the Watford game on the weekend, Wenger has provided injury updates of his players. Luckily for the Gunners, Fifa virus hasn’t struck this time around which means we could all expect the likes of Sanchez and Campbell fit and ready for the upcoming games.
Laurent Koscielny will undergo a fitness test, which puts his involvement in the Watford game into question, although that means the Frenchman is close to full recovery. “Koscielny has a slight chance to be back on Saturday. He has a definite test tomorrow,” Wenger said.
Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are back in the fold, but Wenger isn’t too confident about either player. “Arteta and Flamini are back in full training. We need to see how they are and how confident they are, but we can’t rule it [their involvement] out.”
And there are positive news from the Americas as all three of Sanchez, David Ospina and Campbell have reported fit. “From the internationals we only have positive news. We are still waiting for Campbell, Alexis and Ospina to return, but they all texted back to say they are OK, so we just have to see if they were objective in their assessment,” added Wenger.
According to Daily Star, who have quoted Marca as the source after clearly reading more into the words of Jese Rodriguez’s agent, the Gunners are ready to offer the Spaniard a way out of Real Madrid. The Real Madrid forward has enjoyed limited game time at the Bernabeu this season, and this prompted Daily Star to link the forward to Arsenal, saying the Gunners are ready to make a move for the player after his agent talked up his current situation: “He needs to play more, that’s the best way to keep his spirits up. The club will have to make a decision. He’s training well, he’s strong and has to seize the opportunity when it comes”.
Meanwhile, Alexis Sanchez has put all the rumours linking him with a move to Real Madrid to bed after his two goals guided Chile to a 4-3 win over Peru yesterday in Lima. “I’m very happy at Arsenal, I don’t think about leaving. I always want to be the best at everything I do. I’m never happy with what I do, I always want to give more,” said Sanchez in the post-match press conference, the video of which can be viewed below.