1 – 0 Walcott (4)
2 – 0 Walcott (14)
3 – 0 Wilshere (17)
4 – 0 Walcott (36)
4 – 1 McAuley (57)
It took less than five minutes to end The Emirates goal drought. Inside twenty, the toils and travails of the last three home games were well and truly pushed to one side. Not forgotten, just not relevant for the afternoon. Albion were already on the beach and Arsenal mercilessly, ruthlessly punished them.
The headline-grabber was Theo Walcott, three in a little over half-an-hour. There was something to enjoy about all three, the scrapiness, the instinctive finishing, that he was taking the positions, making the runs. Walcott was a thorn in Albion’s side for the hour he was on the pitch, an encouraging performance which offers the prospect of an alternative when things need to be changed.
Arsène was suitably impressed and offered some platitudes ahead of contract negotiations with the player,
I always said that Walcott could play through the middle because he has good movement, good finishing and he did that well today. Walcott’s a good goalscorer but he’s been out for a year. That’s a long, long time and it takes more time to come back to your best. He’s the right age, 26, to play through the middle. I wish that he stays free of injuries now.
Without diminishing Walcott’s contribution, Jack Wilshere produced an afternoon of verve and incisiveness which followed on from previous performances, capping it all off with a fine finish. It’s the sort of response we hope for, a recognition that competition for places demands that players raise their levels and make it impossible for the manager to ignore them. Wilshere’s desire to play for Arsenal shone through in the interview carried in yesterday’s media but words are easy; his performance underlined that.
Of the two, Wilshere gave Arsène more to think about than Walcott. It would be a major surprise if Olivier Giroud doesn’t start at Wembley. Wilshere is vying with Aaron Ramsey for the starting place and the Welshman wasn’t about to give up his place lightly. Ramsey on another afternoon would be arguing with Walcott over the match ball. Myhill managed to put a paw in the way and when he needed that little extra, the woodwork helped.
Or is it Cazorla whose place is most under threat from Wilshere’s return? With Arsène at the moment, you’re never too sure and that’s no bad thing, so long as the players are. The options and the flexibility they bring are what has been missing in previous seasons. In the short-term, namely next weekend, you sense that Arsène will defer in the starting line-up at least, to those who have played well for the majority of the second half of the season, regardless of their current form.
Speaking to the media afterwards, Wenger said,
I cannot tell you what I will do next weekend but you could see that some players are in a good shape. I tried to pick the team who had a good chance to win.
It was a therapeutic afternoon for some, for others not so good. Belatedly introduced, Giroud had seen Walcott steal the limelight but couldn’t find the space for a showstopper himself. Awkward questions get asked in those situations. Alas for the French striker, he had no answer. Indeed the answer is a goal; next weekend will do nicely as a riposte.
In fairness to him, it was always difficult to arrive into a game which was already over. Albion, supine in the first half at least woke up in the second and without Walcott’s constant motion, having Giroud to mark was a relief for the centre of their defence. Arsenal weren’t geared to Giroud’s strengths at that point, they were in cruise control. Victory was assured, more goals would have been nice but the end-of-season feeling shone through in the final twenty minutes of the match.
Having been so dismal in front of goal in recent home games, the first half released the pressure ahead of the FA Cup final. It’s not the sort of fixture that a team needs to go into with question marks hanging over them, especially in a game in which they will be favourites. Which is probably not the best time for David Ospina to offer sustenance to his critics.
Albion’s goal resulted from poor judgement on his part, failing to assert the physical advantage goalkeepers have in the penalty area, unable to get his hand(s) on the ball because he chose to go behind a cluster of players. A misjudgment of the flight of the ball, compounded by a shot deflecting off his gloves onto the bar and on to safety. All this on an afternoon when his inclusion in the starting XI led to speculation that Wojciech Szczesny had put his towel over a seat on the Wembley bench. It may not now be so clear-cut.
It would be a curious choice to play Szczesny at Wembley in some respects though. Yesterday was the perfect opportunity to give him some match sharpness ahead of the final and with the magnitude of that match, it’s surprising Arsène spurned the chance. Last season, Fabianski played at Carrow Road and I wonder if the remaining Pole’s absence signals the curtain call on his Arsenal career? Pure speculation of course, Wenger didn’t play Szczesny before the semi-final nor Fabianski last year so the prospect of reading too much into the situation definitely exists.
But for now, the Premier League season is over. A step up into third place and direct entry into the Champions League was achieved with fewer points than last year and further behind the champions. Closer to second and further clear of fifth; who said judging a season over anything but thirty-eight games was easy?