Arsenal’s latest awakening gives Antonio Conte sleepless nights

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 0: Only time will tell if this outstanding Arsenal display was a false dawn, or a genuine rebirth of the club’s title aspirations at the start of a week marking Arsene Wenger’s 20th anniversary as their manager.

Wenger is too shrewd and experienced to make such predictions, stating he is more concerned by the immediate threat of Basle in Wednesday’s next Champions League encounter, but he felt on safer ground discussing the prospects of one of the architects of this result — Theo Walcott.

The enigmatic forward was eclipsed by Alexis Sanchez in a team performance that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte claimed will give him at least two sleepless nights, but is showing signs of finally be fulfilling his potential after an often unconvincing decade under Wenger’s tutelage.

Walcott scored Arsenal’s second in the 14th minute, finishing a dazzling crisp series of passes worthy of any of Wenger’s teams, as good as killing off a lacklustre Chelsea side still reeling from Sanchez’s deft opener which followed yet more poor Gary Cahill defending.

However, it was Walcott’s all-round contribution that really satisfied the thoughtful French coach.

Wenger explained: “I think he used to be 90% about going forward and 10% on defending, but today he does everything 50-50 and does the job in both ways with commitment. I always felt there is character in this boy and intelligence.”

Wenger revealed he spent time with Walcott after he was left reeling by Roy Hodgson’s decision to axe him for the Euros.

“I said many times at the beginning of the season we would see a different Walcott because he had made a decision and was going to stick to it.

“I spoke with him about the disappointment of not going to England. Theo Walcott is a special case; at 16 he went with England to the World Cup in 2006 — now we are in 2016 and he has still not played at a World Cup.

“He has matured and when a player survives these disappointments, after what he promised at 16, and the way he dealt with the situations I always thought there was something special in this guy.”

Wenger says much of the credit should go to the player, but gave an insight into what happened behind the scenes in the summer when he added: “Sometimes [when we talk] it is in my office, sometimes when I find I am in the gym with him and we talk. You catch the opportunities when they are there.”

Walcott, speaking after 350th match for the club, commented: “The past is the past, it’s all about now and this team is bright and young and has got a lot more experience in these games now.

“We’ve been here before. I’ve had so much experience in the years, but we’re not doing ourselves any harm.”

One senses there will be nothing relaxed about Conte’s talks with his players today.

The new Chelsea manager was clearly angered by his team’s display coming after their home defeat by Liverpool the previous week.

Having been unpicked by Sanchez and Walcott, it was Mesut Ozil who rounded off another move that baffled Cahill and defensive partner David Luiz, with Arsenal’s third goal five minutes before half-time. Only good fortune prevented it being a heavier defeat.

Asked if he had been angry with his players, Conte said: “Yes, but I prefer to keep my words private. For sure I was angry, but so were the players because we weren’t satisfied in our game and our performance.

“We must utilise this game to reflect, to reflect a lot. It’s important to reflect. Me and the players.

“I won’t sleep for sure. It’s normal. After this game, this defeat, it’s normal for me not to sleep, not just Saturday night but for two nights. But when I don’t sleep I reflect.

“I have to find the solution very, very soon because against Arsenal we played a very bad game.”

ARSENAL (4-2-3-1):

Cech 7; Bellerin 8, Mustafi 7, Koscielny 8, Monreal 7; Coquelin 7 (Xhaka 32, 6), Cazorla 7; Walcott 8, Ozil 7, Iwobi 7 (Gibbs 69, 6); Sanchez 9 (Giroud 79, 6).

Subs not used:

Ospina, Lucas, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Holding.

CHELSEA (4-2-3-1):

Courtois 6, Ivanovic 4, Cahill 4, Luiz 4, Azpilicueta 5; Kante 5, Matic 5; Willian 5 (Pedro 70, 5), Fabregas 5 (Alonso 55, 5), Hazard 5 (Batshuayi 70, 5); Costa 4.

Subs not used:

Begovic, Oscar, Moses, Chalobah.

Referee:

Michael Oliver 7/10


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