LONDON: Theo Walcott evinced memories of Thierry Henry with the hat-trick which ripped Newcastle apart to the tune of 7-3, Arsenal’s biggest win since they put seven goals past Blackburn last February.
The England forward, at the centre of the Gunners’ latest contract wrangle, was not only wearing the No14 shirt but demonstrating how he, too, can effect the transformation from winger to central striker.
Walcott’s wish to play up front is central to the negotiations about whether he will stay in north London when his contract expires at the season’s end or heads for Manchester, to either City or United.
Manager Arsene Wenger has been reluctant to let it appear that Walcott has a greater insight into his potential than his manager but erratic results left the Frenchman no option but to let the 23-year-old have his head.
Henry, Arsenal’s record goalscorer, must have been impressed as he watched from the stands during his winter break from Major League Soccer duty with New York Red Bull. The comparisons were conceded by Wenger who, after the match, described Walcott’s first strike as “a Thierry Henry-type goal.”
Walcott scored after 20, 73 and 90 minutes in a game which Arsenal being held 1-1 at half-time. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud scored their other goals. Two-goal Demba Ba and Sylvain Marveaux responded for a Newcastle side suffering a fatiguing hangover from their 4-3 defeat by Manchester United on Boxing Day.
Three times Arsenal went ahead, three times Newcastle equalised. Podolski played a part in the build-up to Arsenal’s third goal, which he headed home after Fabricio Coloccini deflected a Jack Wilshere cross against the bar. Then, after Ba had levelled, Podolski fed Kieran Gibbs whose cross was converted by Walcott.
From that point the game belonged to Arsenal who held a fitness advantage in not having played on December 26 when their derby against West Ham was postponed because of a strike by London Underground train drivers.
A fourth win in a row lifted Arsenal up to the fifth in the table and provided the opportunity for Wenger to say, with renewed confidence, that he believes Walcott will stay with Arsenal. Walcott himself, with 14 goals in all competitions this season, was content merely to suggest that “something will be arranged soon.”
Per Mertesacker was rested for the game but was among five Arsenal players – the others being skipper Thomas Vermaelen, Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou and André Santos – who distributed presents over Christmas to sick children at the nearby Whittington Hospital.
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