Arsenal 5 Tottenham 2
Arsene Wenger’s response was emphatic: “Yes,” replied the Arsenal manager when asked if Theo Walcott would stay at the club until the end of the season even if the winger failed to agree a new contract.
Walcott’s future was never going to overshadow a dramatic North London derby — Emmanuel Adebayor’s moment of madness and the 5-2 scoreline ensured that — but the player’s performance ensured it was bound to crop up when proper analysis of the game began.
Recently restored to the starting line-up after being overlooked earlier this season as talks about his future stalled, Walcott’s display as goal provider and, ultimately in added time, goalscorer, highlighted why Wenger remains keen to avoid adding the England international to the growing list of influential players who have left the Emirates Stadium on their terms, and not the club’s. Not that Wenger is about to storm into the office of the chief executive Ivan Gazidis, and insist the club abandon its stance and accede to the player’s £100,000 per week salary demands — “there are 25 exceptions in my squad,” said the manager — but he is keen to advocate Arsenal ignore the chance to attract a fee for Walcott in January rather than allow him leave as a free agent next summer.
The manager’s stance will no doubt attract support from the rest of the players if the reaction of Jack Wilshere is a reflection of the dressing room mood. “He is an English player, he is an English lad and great to have around the dressing room,” said the midfielder. “But that is up to him, the boss and the board. They are going to do whatever they are going to do.
“I hope he signs — as I said, he is great to have around. We all know what Theo brings to the team. He has got pace, he can go behind and his movement and timing of the runs is probably the best around. So he play anywhere up front, right, left, central. He wants to play down the middle, so I think he will get his chance — he will just have to be patient.”
The contribution of Walcott, together withWilshere, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and in particular Santi Cazorla, meant for once, the manager was able to talk optimistically about the potential of this group of players rather than dwell on the frailties.
They were here again, with the home side clearly affected by nerves during the opening 18 minutes when Tottenham dominated and went ahead from Adebayor’s 10th-minute goal before the former Arsenal forward lunged at Cazorla to earn a red card. Arsenal recovered immediately, establishing a 3-1 half-time lead through Per Mertesacker, Podolski and Giroud, then adding a fourth from Cazorla before Bale reawakened Arsenal’s anxieties by making it 4-2. Walcott’s fifth came at the death.
Cazorla’s performance was deserving of attention. “He was different class,” said Wilshere, who even suggested the player might acquire ‘Messi’ as his first English nickname. “His touch and his vision is just a joke. He is a dream to play with. He never gives the ball away, he is creative and busy round the pitch. He is a joy to play with.”
There are inevitable comparisons with Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal’s talisman before he returned to Barcelona, but Wilshere says they are different players. “Some people have said he reminds them of Cesc, but he is a different player to Cesc,” the midfielder added. “Cesc is more of a passer. With Santi he can pick the ball up, he can beat people, he has got a great shot.”
Wenger’s task is to maintain this improvement into Wednesday’s Champions League meeting with Montpellier. “It’s fundamental,” said Cazorla. “If we win we can secure qualification. We would have already qualified if we had won in Schalke and now we have to make sure we get it done this time.”
Tottenham’s concerns are strictly domestic after a fourth defeat in five Premier League games. The battle for fourth is shaping up to be an unforgiving spat. “Our league position is not good but it doesn’t mean we can’t turn it around,” insisted Andre Villas-Boas.
ARSENAL: Szczesny 5, Sagna 6, Mertesacker 5, Koscielny 6, Vermaelen 6, Wilshere 7 (Ramsey 72,6), Arteta 6, Cazorla 9, Walcott 8, Giroud 8 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 86,6), Podolski 7 (Andre Santos 80,6).
TOTTENHAM: Lloris 7, Walker 5 (Dawson 46,6), Gallas 4, Vertonghen 5, Naughton 5 (Dempsey 46,6), Lennon 6, Sandro 6, Huddlestone 5 (Carroll 72,6), Bale 6, Adebayor 3, Defoe 6.
Referee: Howard Webb.
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