Pitchside Europe

Walcott could force Wenger’s hand on Giroud

Arsenal travelled to Upton Park on Boxing Day to face West Ham United, buoyed by winter celebrations, the exchange of gifts and a few tasty treats.

However, it was Arsenal who continued the merrymaking come the full-time whistle, clinching a 3-1 victory that sent them back to the summit of the Premier League, while West Ham plunged into the dark and gloomy wastes at the foot of the table. Extended joyous festivities for the Gunners. Misery and sadness for the Hammers.

The instigator of West Ham’s misfortune was Theo Walcott who, some 22 minutes after Carlton Cole had given West Ham the lead, scored two goals in quick succession, followed by a third and final goal from Lukas Podolski.

It may have taken Arsenal two-thirds of the match to display their panache and clinical edge in front of goal, but from then on the visitors activated the afterburners, applying wave after wave of attacking pressure in the hunt for further goals.

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Man of the Match: Theo Walcott

The winner of Squawka’s Man of the Match award was 24-year-old Walcott, even though the nimble winger ended the first half frustrated due to his missed opportunity and distinct lack of impact – an emotion surely shared with the rest of Arsenal’s creative attackers, as however hard they tried to break down West Ham’s defence, the killer pass was met with wayward finishing, or Adrián’s grasp – the Spanish goalkeeper was starting a league match for only the second time following his summer transfer from Real Betis.

Walcott completed nine passes throughout the first half, with only two (crosses) reaching a team-mate in West Ham’s penalty area. A modest 45 minute display of minimal influence, however Walcott and Arsenal were to push on in the second half in a bid to see off their opponents.

Walcott completed nine first-half passes

As West Ham struggled to traverse the ball forward whenever possession was regained, their opponents found the task far simpler, pinging the ball horizontally and vertically in elegant fashion.

Somebody must have told Arsène Wenger that his side were off on an excursion prior to the game, as they regularly pitched tents outside West Ham’s 18-yard box, camping the most dangerous area on the field, aided by intelligent interchanging of positions and technical excellence.

Walcott completed two take-ons

In total, Walcott completed three crosses, two take-ons and 31 passes at the final whistle, driving his team to the top of the table with two vital second half goals.

He regularly cut inside from the right flank, utilising the traditional moves of an inside forward.

Indeed, the winger spent almost as much time within the zone in front of the 18-yard box (17.4%) as he did out wide (19%).

Walcott spent the majority of the match inside West Ham's 18-yard box

If truth be told, Walcott’s performance wasn’t exceptional, but his efficient display must surely prompt Wenger into making a decision on the misfiring Olivier Giroud.

Walcott has made no secret of the fact that he wants to be recognised as an out-and-out striker for the club, picking up the mantle from Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie, yet his requests are frequently ignored, with Wenger electing to position him on the right flank in order to trouble opposition full-backs.

An understandable tactical decision in terms of his electrifying pace, granted, but when the ex-Southampton youth player is on form, surging past players with ease before slotting the ball into the back of the net, it makes you wonder if Walcott could score the goals that Arsenal need in the hunt for the title, if deployed as the main focus of attacks.

Especially when you compare Walcott’s confidence in front of goal to a certain disappointing and underperforming Frenchman (Giroud has only scored two league goals since 23 October).

Walcott's heat map throughout the match

At the end of the day, the result was the most important thing for Wenger’s side, moving them one point clear at the top of Premier League as the season's midpoint fast approaches.

Walcott may have dampened West Ham’s Christmas spirit (spoilsport), but the tricky speedster was simply reaffirming his position in Arsenal's starting eleven – if anyone needed reminding of his talents.

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