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Arsenal 7 Newcastle United 3

The last game of 2012 and my pre match routine took on a slightly different spin yesterday. My usual crowd were cramming their gobs with delicious Argentinean steak, leaving me to plead poverty. It did however allow me the chance to catch up with the guys from Arsenal Brasil in the Alnwyne Castle pub as the rain tumbled down outside. Arsene Wenger made one change from the team that defeated Wigan, with Per Mertesacker succumbing to norovirus, just as Olivier Giroud and Tomas Rosicky had a few days previously. This meant that the manager persisted with Theo Walcott as a central striker.

Arsenal immediately looked to make pace their partner inside the first minute when Jack Wilshere blocked Tiote`s volley and led a charged counter attack. He fed Chamberlain on the right, who just dragged his shot past Tim Krul`s post from the edge of the area. But after a fairly timid proceeding twenty minutes or so, Arsenal burst into life. Cazorla`s hooked past to Podolski on the left left the German with work to do on the touchline. But he neatly spun Danny Simpson and slipped a cute pass into the left channel. Walcott read it and bent his run beautifully to meet the pass, before making a beeline for the Newcastle area. Cazorla was making a good run to the back post and I thought initially that Theo should square it, but Walcott had already set himself and shaped his body to bend a sumptuous finish inside Tim Krul`s post to make it 1-0.

But next we got the frustrations Walcott still hasn`t eradicated from his game (though they are becoming less frequent). Walcott led another dangerous counter attack and in a two on two situation, he had Cazorla to his right ready for a simple one on one, but Walcott made a terrible hash of an easy pass, which allowed Coloccini to intercept. Newcastle began to grow in confidence and the warning signs were there when Chieck Tiote hit a twenty five yard range finder which forced Szczesny to beat the ball away for a corner. Gabriel Obertan collected Tiote`s pass and plundered in from the touchline to the edge of the Gunners box, Bacary Sagna made a rash tackle, which gave the Magpies a free kick. Demba Ba stepped up with a fairly tame effort, but Jack Wilshere didn`t cover himself in glory, attempting to duck Ba`s shot, he only succeeded in deflecting it into the net.

Newcastle might have turned the tables completely before half time, when Ba curved a lovely pass to Sylvain Marveaux from the left touchline. Marveaux ran unchallenged and fired a shot goalwards, which Szczesny smartly tipped around the post. I worried that Newcastle might elect to tighten the game up in the second half and that space might become an issue. My anxieties were unfounded. Podolski found the onrushing Gibbs seconds into the half, he drove the ball straight at Krul`s legs with Wilshere and Podolski waiting for the pull back. But the Gunners did not need to wait too long for their second goal. Danny Simpson`s woeful throw in next to his own corner flag was intercepted by Podolski, who nodded the ball to Cazorla. The diminutive Spaniard found Chamberlain on the edge of the area. The Ox set himself before sliding a shot into the far corner for his first league goal of the season. Relief.

The home side appeared to be in the groove, though again we saw the worst of Walcott. With Podolski completely free on the back post for a tap in, Theo opted for an impossible shot from 25 yards which went well wide. Theo does need to be careful not to prioritise his desire to prove himself as a striker above the team effort. That piece of selfishness became all the more frustrating a minute later when Newcastle equalised again. Bigirimana clipped a ball out to Obertan on the left. Obertan threw a stepover before motoring beyond Bacary Sagna, his low cross found Sylvain Marveaux totally unmarked on the back post. The back four had a good line across the goal when the cross comes in, Wilshere sees the action unfold in front of him and really should have checked back to mark Marveaux with Gibbs marking Ba.

Arsenal looked to respond immediately, Podolski and Wilshere played a smart one two on the edge of the Arsenal box, the German then found Cazorla, whose left foot shot was spooned away to safety by Krul. Then Gibbs tackled the ponderous Papiss Cisse deep in his own half, Podolski and Cazorla played a swift exchange of passes inside the Magpies area, but Krul was out smartly at the feet of Podolski. But soon enough Arsenal did reassume the lead. Jack Wilshere ran at the heart of the Newcastle defence, leading James Perch a merry dance to the touchline, before standing up an inviting cross which floated dangerously under Krul`s crossbar. Coloccini could only succeed in heading it against his own crossbar and Lukas Podolski was on hand to head home from close range. Relief. Again.

But the intake of breath was soon to give way to annoyed sighs. Newcastle equalised again when Demba Ba flicked on Krul`s goal kick, finding Marveaux. Marveaux didn`t meet much of a challenge as he shifted the ball onto his favoured left foot and delivered a delicious cross with the outside of his left boot. Gibbs fell asleep and allowed Ba to creep in on the back post to side foot home another equaliser. If Walcott was auditioning to be an Arsenal striker at one end, then Ba was executing an equally impressive audition at the other. But from here, the exertions of Boxing Day began to tell on tired Newcastle legs. Walcott`s good points began to take over too.

Podolski once again found the tireless Gibbs on the left hand side. This time he did pull the ball back, Podolski missed it, with the ball seemingly rolling perfectly for Sagna, Walcott stopped it, spun and kept his composure, toe poking the ball into the roof of the net. The look of resignation on Newcastle faces demonstrated that they didn`t have it in them for another comeback. It was a fantastic, consummate finish by Walcott. But had he missed, he would have had Sagna to answer to. Olivier Giroud entered the fray at this point, which meant Walcott moved out to the right hand side. But he was still in ultra confident mode, picking up Ramsey`s pass, feinting past Tiote before finding his bending shot deflected inches wide off of James Perch`s thigh.

Theo made a convincing case for being a passable right winger too as Arsenal put the game beyond Newcastle. Sagna`s reverse pass saw Walcott sashay out wide and wrap his body around a terrific cross, which left Olivier Giroud with the relatively simple job of heading past Krul from close range. In Arsenal`s current formation, only one of Giroud or Walcott can play centre forward. The pair have showed good signs of linkage this season and there is a suggestion that the pair could play together as a strike partnership. That would mean breaking up the midfield triumvirate of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla. Unless Cazorla were to be moved out wide as a drifting right winger. But then with Podolski on the left, you`d pretty much have a front three of Walcott, Giroud and Podolski anyway. There really are no swift answers as to which shape this team ought to be taking. If we can chop and change as effectively as we did yesterday, it`s a moot point, but not every game will be this open, as Wigan proved on Saturday.

Walcott and Giroud combined for the next goal too, although not quite as deliberately. Walcott moved in from the right and stumbled his way past Obertan and Tiote, before falling over. Giroud protected the ball away from Perch before smashing a right footed shot beneath the beleaguered body of Tim Krul. Newcastle were truly out on their feet. But perhaps the finest finish in a game of expert finishing was saved for last. Walcott took a quick free kick to Wilshere next to the corner flag. Theo then contrived to dance past Ameobi and Tiote. Obertan flicked out a leg and brought him down. Most of the stadium looked away in disbelief as Chris Foy somehow did not deem Obertan`s deliberately trailing leg to have been a foul. I was busy shouting at the referee myself until I was halted in my invective by the crowd cheering. The replay showed me what my wandering eyes hadn`t seen. Theo, in a manner similar to Thierry against Leeds all those years ago, simply got to his feet and lifted a cool finish past Krul into the net.

It was Walcott`s second hat trick of the season and the second time Arsenal had found the net seven times in a game. Giroud might also have had a hat trick himself. Aaron Ramsey`s low cross found the Frenchman inside the area but his effort rattled the underside of the bar. Chris Foy put a weary Newcastle out of their misery and curtailed the fun with the final whistle. Theo`s hat trick seems to be ample evidence that he can indeed play through the centre, certainly in home matches against tired opposition. But three Arsenal goals also emanated from Theo making runs from out wide. Like I said, it`s not an easy conundrum, but I don`t think our forwards need obsess too much about which particular part of the formation graphic they occupy so long as the team are scoring. Walcott, Podolski and Giroud were all able to score typical centre forward goals, Podolski and Walcott were able to create goals from wide positions too. So long as they interchange effectively that`s what matters most. Alas, Walcott won`t be here long enough for that front three to really foment an understanding. LD.

ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA, 10.WILSHERE, 19.S.CAZORLA (22.Coquelin `86), 15.CHAMBERLAIN (12.Giroud `74), 9.PODOLSKI (16.Ramsey `82), 14.WALCOTT. Unused: 7.Rosicky, 20.Djourou, 24.Mannone, 27.Gervinho.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: 1.KRUL, 5.SIMPSON (31.Ferguson `82), 14.PERCH, 2.COLOCINNI (c), 3.SANTON, 22.MARVEAUX (34.Tavernier `86), 24.TIOTE, 20.BIGIRIMANA (23.Shola Ameobi `82), 25.OBERTAN, 9.CISSE, 19.BA. Unused: 13.Harper, 26.Streete, 28.Sammy Ameobi, 30.Abeid.




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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday December 30 2012

Time: 1:47PM

Your Comments

It was a little disconcerting for me that we conceded a couple of goals from uncoordinated defensive play, which cannot be down to the inclusion of Koscielny in an, otherwise stable back 5. We just need to do that more assuredly as we don't have the fire power (arguable, with that score line, I agree) of, say, the current league leaders, to bail us out when we concede. It was easy to see that Walcott is on his way out of the club, unless something unusual happens with his contract situation. the way he celebrated the match ball with the fans after the game looked a bit "farewell-ish" for me. Shame, we are forced to put him in the shop window, even though we know he could leave. Shows you how shorn of quality we are now, in the front line.
Naijagunner
So you've conceded he will be leaving arsenal, out of curiosity where do you think he'll be leaving to go? Walcott, very much like Van Persie, I just can't imagine in any other kit than an arsenal one (that said I'm chuffed RVP dons a united kit now :P).
TheFamousNo7
TFN7, just on his body language, he looks to be off. When you allow a player run his contract to a point where the balance of power is in his favour, chances are that he will favour leaving for the better contract or better chance of silverware. Honestly, though, I struggle to see any top team that will allow him as much game time not to speak of the patience Wenger has shown him, all those years he frustrated the life out of fans. His destination? Your guess is as good as mine.
Naijagunner
Thanks for the response Naija, I know vitalarsenal isn't one to entertain transfer speculation so your response is appreciated :)
TheFamousNo7
We definitely need a combative midfielder. There were a few occasions where I saw Koscielny being physically bullied by Ba, being unable to get off the ground for headers, and consequently seeing a belated clearance instantly spark off another Newcastle attack. And once they were in our half they just walked through our midfield pretty much. Walcott has been inconsistent in the past, but it's true that in that inconsistent period he's still managed to score 61 goals and get 47 assists, whilst playing on an unfamiliar position on the wing to encourage him to develop his left foot and passing. He has to feel comfortable choosing a left-footed pass when it's the better option. To truly master his left foot in that position to pass to Cazorla, he has to be braver and choose to pass with his left. If he passes with his left, which he can do after scoring so accurately with his left in the recent past, he will be a proper European striker. He probably scores that chance with his left later on if he passes with his left but hey he's still learning. Maybe Henry will teach him how to strike the ball from distance, you know just in case he wants to try again. I'm welcome to him having the shot if he learns the right technique.
Arsenales F.C
Theo has grown up playing in the Champions League. Don't underestimate the value of the Arsenal education, it hasn't all been on the training ground. I think any player who encounters the Champions League either adapts their game and becomes a better player or gets swiftly exposed. He's played nearly 50 games in the Champions League at the age of 23, scored 11 goals and got 9 assists. Even established internationals like Podolski haven't got that education.
Arsenales F.C
I know, but I think we are all getting carried away. Despite the scoreline, I thought we were poor on saturday, but kudos to the team, the important thing is that when you play poorly you still grind out a result but Saturday was really flattering.
phreddy
The solidity of Szczesny has been a positive (even though we conceded 3, neither was down to him). He makes 1-2 good saves each game, and he is capable of winning points for us. And he has been doing that in a solid, under stated way, in a manner that doesn't call special attention. It's been a while since I felt this way about an Arsenal goalie.
prits
You've made the point earlier about the inter-changing of our forward line, LD, but it's apparent that Theo's contract is about money. He will make more elsewhere, and I can only see him sign for ManU, Man City or Chelsea. Anywhere else will be a step down (no one else can offer CL action). In any case, we should hold him till the season end, since top 4 is nowhere near certain. Make sure we get there 1st.
prits
If Theo aint gonna sign he should be dropped. This is getting beyond a joke now, literally every single year.... it makes you sick to the back teeth really that this can happen to the club so much, we're the 5th biggest in Europe or whatever the official ranking is aren't we? Yet lose our best players every summer.
shewore
shewore - I understand the feeling, but we need to be practical. If we're losing Theo in the summer, might as well use him till then, since he's adding value to results. We don't have the luxury of having 4th place sewn up - if we do, then Wenger can consider dropping him.
prits
In 3 days Walcott will be able to sign a pre-contract with any club he wants. In 3 days, even if we signed Neymar we wouldn't be able to pick up a player with Champions League experience. If the Emirates deal really will provide money upfront and a new income stream worth 30 million a year, why do we still need to sell a player? We cannot buy a player with 50 games Champions League experience at the age Walcott is now, how do you think Walcott will be playing if he is a Champions League centurion?
Arsenales F.C
It's 24 starts in those Champions League appearances, that's 11 goals and 9 assists in 24 starts (+subs), in the middle of his young inconsistent period in an unfamiliar position. Even Nani in 37 CL starts (+subs) has only got 3 goals for Man United. Nani, one of the best players in the league, has got 38 goals and around 50 assists for Man United in his natural position. Theo in just 1 season more in an unnatural position has scored 56 goals and got 45 assists. If Nani is on 90,000 a week for what he's contributed to his team, Theo has contributed slightly more, has shown more ability as a CL player, and is worth 100k a week. He practically single-handedly got us a draw against Barcelona ffs, and we're moaning he's inconsistent a striker, playing as a winger? Are we simply not going to pay him what he's worth and lose another great player?
Arsenales F.C
Same with players like Chamberlain, he's marshalled the midfield in a 3-0 win against the Italian champions AC Milan at the San Siro when he was 18 - you just can't afford to let players like that go, and if Walcott goes, we're more likely to lose the next generation. This looks like a critical point at Arsenal right now. Wenger says statements like "I have money to spend if there's a player", then "If I had the money I would buy Neymar". Bloody hell, Wenger could buy Neymar, have him for 3 seasons and sell him at vast profit if the Arsenal board just let him. How can they trust him to keep them in the CL and turn a profit, yet not trust him to know how to use a player like Neymar? We could sell a guy like that for 60 million+ easily.
Arsenales F.C
Totally agree on Szczesny, he's a class above. Theo's situation is clearly about money, I don't really bare him any grudge there, most of us would do the same.
Little Dutch
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323320404578211441936337024.html this is a very good piece on the Theo contract situation, which shows that, though it's tempting to sling mud at the club for it, there's another side.
Little Dutch
LD, for me that article only highlights how much the club have dilly-dallied. To be in a position where the player is calling the shots happens occaisonally. The problem for us is that its happening virtually every season with our best players. One can argue that Walcott's development trajectory hasn't been consistent. Who's fault is that? The player or his trainers? Arsenal are a club with supposedly a global profile, based in one of Europe's top cities, a fantastic state of the art stadium with reference training facilties. And yet we still can't sell a compelling enough vision of the future to keep our best. And its my belief that its this vision, rather than the money, which is at the heart of what ails this club.
Wyn Mills
We are one of Europe's top clubs yes. But we're typically losing players to the very few cadre of clubs above us who are a) richer and b) have better short term prospects of silverware. We offered good enough terms and a good enough vision to Wilshere and Chamberlain for instance. That would surely be enough for Theo too if it was 100% about vision. It's about terms on this occasion and I don't totally blame him for that. It is what it is.
Little Dutch
Dull first half, really exciting second half. Just at this stage, it was worth conceding 3 to score seven - very important to relax and express ourselves at home. On Theo and selling players, agree with LD, except I do blame Theo for wanting to leave - we've put so much into developing him, more than any young player in recent times bar Cesc. And we have only just started to reap the benefit. If he stayed a couple more years, he'd still have time to cash in with a big money move - twice, probably. @ Wyn Mills - we've been trying to get him to re-sign since the summer of 2011. That's 18 months ago. He's dilly-dallying, not the club. @ arsenales fc - Theo has played as a winger/wide forward at Arsenal for six years, it's not an unfamiliar position, really.
FunGunner
And I also think he wants to join the Dutch badger at ManUre.
FunGunner
Some blame does fall at the door of the Arsenal management, but it was an understandable risk that they took in Theo's case. If they had offered Theo 100K a week last season, there would have been further uproar on how they are mismanaging the club and handing out lucrative contracts to players who don't deserve it (in fact, does he deserve 100K a week even now?). His situation is slightly different to RvP & Cesc - they gave us 2 outstanding seasons. Theo will have a good season this year, but he is not yet a guaranteed starter, and so, has not repaid the faith put into him by Wenger - this is the idealist in me talking, reality dictates that he will move for more money.
prits
Theo is squeaky clean and using this centre forward issue as a smoke screen to wait and see what offers come in so the fans don't get on his back. It's ridiculous that this happens year on year, i'm sorry but it really is.
shewore
I'd say Theo is more like Flamini. Cesc was different. He was a real winner and champion whose motivation didn't fluctuate and who wanted to win and was willing to work for it and so often dragged us across the line. Funny how Walcott is starting to show his stuff just when he's in the shop window.
Gooner_Vin
Theo knows that this club is the best place for him to be, but he wants assurances about his role and clearly Wenger has never been one to give those assurances...not publicly anyway. Wenger would rather sell a player than be dictated to about where that player plays. For me its not about the money. Naive view perhaps, but that's my gut feeling about Walcott. Jack and Alex are too young and idealistic to care at this point.
Wyn Mills
So, what's keeping him from signing, do you think? He's been playing through the middle for the last few games and should have had all the assurances needed. It is about a little more money than the 75k/week on offer.
Naijagunner
His agents are obviously trying to eek out as much as they can. That's it. Wenger knows this and he hasn't given up on Walcott because he knows the kid wants to stay. That's why he's given him the outing in the middle.
Wyn Mills
In other words, Wyn, it is about the money.
prits
 

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