Category: Arsenal

Theo Walcott: Back To His Best

When you ask Arsenal fans what has surprised them the most in the beginnings of this 2016-17 Premier League campaign, most will agree on one common theme: Theo Walcott’s electrifying form.

The resurgent winger has already shown the ability to ghost past even the soundest Premier League defences this season. Has Walcott finally regained his killer instinct of seasons long past, or will he slowly slump to the disappointing form that is burned into the minds of Arsenal fans from the past three seasons?

Walcott transferred to Arsenal from Southampton as a promising 16-year old in the winter transfer window of the 2005-06 Premier League season, but didn’t debut for Arsenal until opening day of the following season. His only goal that season came as Arsenal’s one in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the League Cup Final, a match in which tempers flared and three players were sent off in the 96th minute. Still, Walcott received praise in an otherwise bleak Arsenal campaign, with Arsène Wenger calling Theo increasingly, “complete and mature.”

Walcott’s performances earned a call up to an England side competing for qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup that featured mostly senior players, such as Frank Lampard and David Beckham. He earned a start over Middlesbrough winger Stewart Downing in that match against Croatia, when England fans really began to feel excited about their young star – Walcott scored three times against a 10-man Croatian side to open his scoring account for England. A wonderful performance wreaking havoc down the right-wing seemed to foreshadow a successful and prolific career for the young England starlet.

Walcott was assigned the prestigious number 14 shirt ahead of the 2008-09 season, previously worn by Arsenal’s all-time leading goalscorer, Thierry Henry. Beginning the season in line with fulfilling his potential, he earned plaudits for his performances against West Ham away and Everton, scoring his first goal of the season against the latter. However, this season marked the beginning of a lengthy struggle with injuries, a shoulder dislocation keeping him on the sidelines for almost six months. Walcott’s next three seasons were blighted by recurring hamstring, shoulder, and knee injuries.

The 2012-13 season was, by the numbers, Theo’s most prolific season. Bagging 21 goals in 43 appearances, he was able to form a successful partnership with new signing Olivier Giroud. A memorable match from that season was when he scored three and assisted two more against Newcastle in a 7-3 thriller at the Emirates. Theo quieted speculation about his future by signing a new three-year contract, and finished as top goalscorer for Arsenal in their 4th place finish that season.

The next two seasons formed the basis of much criticism over the England winger. Walcott’s bright start to the season, with Arsenal on top of the league by a point over eventual champions Manchester City, was ended by a ruptured knee ligament sustained against Tottenham. This injury would prove to  rule him out for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as well. Arsenal fell to 4th in a largely disappointing second half to the campaign, leaving questions being asked of manager Wenger for the entire summer. Wenger continually reaffirmed his belief in Walcott’s recovery, saying that he would come back “stronger than before.”

Upon return from injury, it was apparent that the knee injury had affected Walcott mentally. A shadow of his prolific self of seasons preceding the injury, Walcott went into tackles half-heartedly and seemed to have lost the blistering pace that he was once renowned for. His defensive contributions were lacklustre, and constant criticism from fans referenced his high pay cheque as disproportionate to performances on the pitch. Many called for him to be sold in the summer preceding the current season, to free up wages for potential signings of the likes of Riyad Mahrez or Alexandre Lacazette. Yet through the storm of negative opinions, Wenger stood by his winger, constantly restating his belief in a resurgence of form.

Walcott came into this season as a renewed force. With Alexis Sanchez being pushed to the central striker position, Walcott returned to his familiar role on the right-wing. Whatever hints of the mental blockade that plagued him in the previous two seasons had vanished. Against almost all predictions, Walcott had returned to form as the marauding right-winger that terrorised defences almost ten years previously. With stellar performances in pre-season, Walcott brought his renewed work ethic into the Premier League campaign. Already matching his total for tackles in the previous year with just a fraction of the matches played, it is clear that he is out to prove himself this season. Finding the back of the net against Chelsea in a 3-0 win, Walcott showcased the skills of a winger with devastating pace, reawakened confidence, and deadly determination for the matches to come.

Jeremy Pepino
jpepino@umass.edu

Premier League: Top 4 Contenders Reviewed

Can we rule out Chelsea after the efforts (or lack thereof) in recent weeks and particularly on Saturday? Is the top 4 set just 6 weeks into the season? We take a look at each of the current team’s chances of reaching the Champions League next term. Note to clubs: You need ten points minimum to qualify for our analysis after match day 6, and conveniently that is a top 8.

Manchester City – Current Position: 1st
Don’t they start seasons well? Reminiscent of last year, but seem to have a fair bit more about them this time around. Look the real deal, and it’s disingenuous to include them in discussions about the top 4 when it seems they will win the league comfortably. Kevin de Bruyne’s injury on the weekend may hamper them for games against Tottenham and Everton, but Pep Guardiola has flagged Raheem Sterling as the man to step up. And with 4 goals in 6 games so far, you wouldn’t put it past him. If Vincent Kompany can stay injury-free, and Sergio Aguero continue scoring for fun, it’s a matter of how far City. Predicted Finish: 1st.

Tottenham – Current Position: 2nd
The only other undefeated team, and despite a slow start with two draws in three games to open the season. Certainly have added more depth this season. The risk is that Champions League football is too draining, but maintain current form and they are every chance of pushing City next weekend, as well as throughout the season. Don’t rely on one or two players anymore and have barely missed a beat since Harry Kane’s unfortunate injury. The next few weeks will be crucial if they hope to hang to both the unbeaten streak and top 4 chances. Predicted Finish: 4th.

Arsenal – Current Position: 3rd
A 3-0 belting of London rivals Chelsea on Saturday was quite the statement. Any questions over Arsene Wenger have been put to bed, at least for the time being. Shkodran Mustafi looks a class defender and forms a back pair with Koscielny that the Gunners have been desperate for. Shouldn’t concede as they have in the past if these two stay on the pitch. At times they looked far too good for the Premier League at the weekend, let alone too good for Chelsea. Maintain their best form and a top 2 finish beckons. Predicted Finish: 2nd.

Liverpool – Current Position: 4th
With so many goal scoring options and Jurgen Klopp at the helm, it’s been a sight to behold with Liverpool in full flight. Save for a poor loss at Burnley, they have been nothing short of electrifying in the front half. Yet the defence and consistency appears the difference between a potential top 4 finish and just missing. We think they have too many threats up front though, and that this will cover for any failings at the back. Predicted Finish: 3rd.

Everton – Current Position: 5th
Potentially the biggest manager move in the off-season was Ronald Koeman coming in at Everton. What an effect he has had, turning a talented yet severely underperforming Everton squad into one that now actually plays. Came back to Earth on the weekend, and may not quite have the depth of talent to finish in the four. But they’re a massive threat, and will push hard at least for a Europa League return. Predicted Finish: 7th

Manchester United – Current Position: 6th
It was back to the Manchester United of old on the weekend. Consistency is an issue though, not to mention what Mourinho will do with Rooney. Half an hour of football produced in the first half on Saturday was the best we’ve witnessed in 12 months. At their best, and with such weapons of Ibra and Rashford up front, they could be unstoppable. At their best, they can rival the best of Arsenal and Liverpool. But the soft underbelly remains. We think they might just miss the 4. Predicted Finish: 5th.

Crystal Palace – Current Position: 7th
Another strong start to the season for Alan Pardew’s men with ten points. Three wins in a row will prove crucial as we’ve seen what happens when Palace or Pardew teams get on a poor run. Should definitely avoid relegation, and aim for a top half finish. The Townsend and Benteke combination will be crucial for goals, if they can develop an understanding then the bottom three will be out of the equation. Predicted Finish: 11th

Chelsea – Current Position: 8th
From what we’ve seen so far, Conte’s Chelsea is not too much better than the Mourinho/Hiddink’s equivalent. It’s hard to see them making up enough ground to finish in the top four, when it had seemed a possibility early. Glimpses of improvement early have been replaced by a shocking performance against a rampant Arsenal. Until the Blues bring in defensive reinforcements, it seems impossible for them to challenge for anything other than the Europa League. Predicted Finish: 6th

Premier League Preview: Arsenal v Chelsea

We preview Saturday’s epic Premier League Matchday 6 encounter as Arsenal host Chelsea at Emirates Stadium.

Form:
Back to their best. Only one point from the opening two games, but since then the Gunners have been utterly dominant in the league. Wins over Watford, Southampton and Hull were followed by a hammering of Nottingham Forest in the cup.
League Form: L, D, W, W, W. (4th position in League)

A come from behind victory over Leicester in the League Cup followed a loss to rampant Liverpool and a draw away at Swansea in the Premier League. Two hiccups after such a promising start is some concern, but the midweek fixture could be the steadier that Chelsea required to get their season back on track.
League Form: WWW, D, L. (5th position in League)

Line-Ups:
Arsenal now appear much more settled after some early jitters. Shkodran Mustafi has strengthened the defensive unit in place of young Rob Holding, whilst the signing of Granit Xhaka appears a masterstroke given his performances and shooting ability from long-range. He should start over Alex Iwobi. It’s possibly Arsene Wenger’s best starting eleven.

Arsenal: Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Mustafi, Bellerin, Walcott, Cazorla, Coquelin, Xhaka, Ozil, Sanchez.

 

John Terry is still unavailable for Chelsea, meaning David Luiz should retain his place at the back. Has Cesc Fabregas done enough in a match winning role against Leicester to regain his starting spot? We think he may just usurp Oscar in midfield in the only change from the Liverpool loss.

Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Ivanovic, Kante, Matic, Willian, Hazard, Fabregas, Costa.

The Match:
There will no doubt be several key figures at the forefront of this derby, none moreso than Diego Costa. Costa has scored in Chelsea’s past three Premier League games and has five for the season to top the goal charts. Given his return to form and history of strong performances against Arsenal, Wenger has noted that it necessary for his men to avoid poking the bear. Chelsea will be hoping he continues to push the boundaries whilst staying on the field, which he has barely managed thus far. Arsenal will be hoping to avoid confrontation and most importantly keep him quiet.

Curbing Costa, Hazard and Willian’s influence will be crucial if Arsenal are to overturn a stretch of nine Premier League encounters without a win over Chelsea. It is a truly remarkable record, and will require the attacking prowess of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to break through at the other end. Much has been made of David Luiz’s ability as a footballer vs ability as a defender, and he will need more of the latter here.

Prediction:
To suggest both teams will be up for this match is nothing short of a massive understatement. It is a crucial clash despite coming so early in the season. Can Arsenal push on and highlight their title credentials by breaking the Chelsea hoodoo? Can Chelsea overturn their poor recent form and prove they are in a fight for the top 4? The home ground factor may prove decisive. We expect Arsenal to win the key stats, and that could just be enough to take an invaluable three points.

Daily Football Blog Prediction: Arsenal 2 1 Chelsea

Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool Through in League Cup

English League Cup Third Round, Tuesday Night Review:

A second half brace from summer signing Lucas Perez has eased Arsenal through to the next round of the League Cup away at Nottingham Forest. Another Granit Xhaka long-range strike opened the scoring for the Gunners with his second goal in consecutive games, making it a day to saviour for new signings. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finished off Forest to make it 4-0 in stoppage time and a resounding victory. Arsenal made sweeping changes to the side that defeated Hull 4-1 at the weekend, yet were barely troubled as their young side proved utterly dominant.

Liverpool comfortably accounted for Derby County 3-0 at the iPro Stadium with goals from defender Ragnar Klavan, Philippe Coutinho and Divock Origi. Estonian Klavan poked home his first goal for the Reds from a corner, becoming Liverpool’s 10th scorer in all competitions this season. Coutinho and Roberto Firming combined to make it 2-0 soon after the interval, with Origi finishing things off in the 54th minute with the electric Coutinho this time laying off an assist.

At the King Power Stadium, Chelsea came from 0-2 behind against Premier League Champions Leicester to record a 4-2 victory. Down at the half thanks to two goals from Shinji Okazaki, Antonio Conte’s did manage to pull one back through Gary Cahill’s header just before the break. Cesar Azpilicueta drew Chelsea level within 5 minutes of the restart, and it remained 2-2 until the Foxes’ Martin Wasilewski was sent off on 89 minutes. With extra time needed, Cesc Fabregas proved the hero as he scored twice in three minutes to send his team through to the fourth round.

Amongst other Premier League clubs, Bournemouth failed to overcome Preston North End, going down 2-3 in extra time thanks to a hat trick from Simon Makienok. Everton’s powerful start to their season could not be transferred to the cup as they were beaten at home 0-2 by recently relegated Norwich City.

A series of Football League teams also faced off, with Ex-Bournemouth midlfielder Matt Ritchie and Youan Gouffran each scoring to send Newcastle through over Wolverhampton Wanderers, A single late goal Leeds United’s Chris Wood saw them through over lowly Blackburn Rovers, with Reading holding off Brighton 2-1.

The League Cup continues on Wednesday night with the remainder of Premier League clubs featuring. Southampton face Cystal Palace and Stoke host Hull City in seemingly the most even fixtures, with high-flying Man City also heading to Swansea. Manchester United, West Ham, Tottenham and Sunderland round out the top division teams seeking to move through to the fourth round.

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