TOP MAN: Theo Walcott
A QUITE remarkable game had a Theo Walcott hat-trick at the centrepiece of a stunning 7-3 Arsenal win over a shell-shocked Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium.
Walcott strikes in the 20th, 73rd and 90th minutes has done the England international’s contract negotiations no harm whatsoever during an encounter where this correspondent thought that he might run out of fingers such was the weight of goals.
Arsenal had had Boxing Day off. The tube workers strike had meant that their fixture against east London rivals West Ham was postponed. But it was the home side that started like a train.
Arsenal made a positive start with flying winger Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leading a lightning break within the opening seconds. United replied with a Demba Ba header that went comfortably over.
The hosts’ nerves were settled – Arsenal have been inconsistent at home all season – when Walcott neatly tucked home the opening goal after a neat pass by German international Lukas Podolski.
Walcott’s strike was finished with so much aplomb that the watching Thierry Henry was off his seat celebrating with the rest of the Emirates crowd.
Walcott had a chance to add to his tally on 38 minutes but his effort was saved by a desperate Tim Krul in the away goal.
Arsene Wenger’s men had many other good situations in the opening half to potentially add to their total but fluffed their lines each time with a sloppy final ball. They were to eventually pay a price for being so wasteful.
Cheick Tiote had a shot tipped over by Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczesny on 40 minutes as Newcastle pressed just before half time.
The equaliser came on 43 minutes after a Ba free kick struck Jack Wilshere on the head and flew past the Arsenal custodian.
Sylvain Marveaux could have made Arsenal’s half-time cuppa even more unpalatable with a strike that was saved by Szczesny. There was no inkling of what was to come in the second half.
Five minutes in and Oxlade-Chamberlain fired past Krul from 18 yards out after good work by the diminutive Santi Cazorla. 2-1.
Just nine minutes later and the competent Marveaux nipped in behind a static Gunners defence after a powerful Gabriel Obertan run and cross. 2-2.
Podolski notched Arsenal’s third in the 64th minute after Wilshere had won the ball in midfield and drove into the United area. 3-2.
Ba had the Arsenal faithful tearing their hair out with a goal of his own after the influential Marveaux had set him up in the 69th minute. 3-3.
Walcott struck his second with a tidy effort with the United defence all over the place. While left back Kieran Gibbs had been errant in his own box all game, he could at least claim the assist for Arsenal’s fourth.4-3
Substitute Olivier Giroud came off the bench to claim two goals in the 84th and 87th minutes but the match ball belonged to Walcott who fittingly hit Arsenal’s seventh – and it was arguably his best.
A wriggling Walcott was felled by attempted tackles by Obertan and Tiote inside the United penalty box.
However, you can’t keep a good man down and the England man was up on his feet in sprightly fashion to somehow conclude the scoring.