Arsenal 7 Newcastle 3
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hopes Arsenal can persuade Theo Walcott to stay at the club after his breathtaking hat-trick helped destroy Newcastle on Saturday.
Walcott has so far refused to sign an extension to his current deal that expires in the summer after moving from Southampton in 2006.
Part of the problem has been manager Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to employ him in a central striker’s role but after taking his tally to seven goals in his last six appearances since finally being given an opportunity in that position, the Frenchman has admitted the 23-year-old proved himself.
That will be music to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ears, who followed the same path as Walcott when he moved to North London from the south coast last year. Now the 19-year-old expects his friend to commit himself to the club for the long term.
“We’ve all been giving him a bit of banter [about the contract negotiations] but that’s for Theo’s people and himself to sort out with whoever is involved,” he said.
“You could see after his first goal he had a spring in his step but he has been like that all season. He has been brilliant for us and all the speculation that’s going on, he’s stuck to his work and he is a great professional. He’s a good mate and a good lad around the dressing room. We need him to keep doing that for as long as he can.
“When he first came to Arsenal, he was training with players like [Thierry] Henry, [Dennis] Bergkamp and [Robert] Pires so he has learned off the best. I’m sure he’s getting better from when I used to watch Arsenal to the man he is now. He’s still only 23 and he has such a mature head on his shoulders and is a really good professional on and off the pitch.”
The postponement of their St Stephen’s Day fixture with West Ham because of a Tube strike meant Arsenal would be the fresher of the two sides. By contrast Newcastle, who suffered a morale-sapping 4-3 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford, looked to be suffering the effects in the opening exchanges.
Walcott’s first goal was a classic piece of finishing that Henry would have been proud of. The French striker has been training with Arsenal since the end of the MLS season, although there is no confirmation he will return on loan again like last season.
But his presence has clearly had an effect on Walcott as he left Tim Krul with no chance after racing onto a great pass from Lukas Podolski in the 19th minute. Demba Ba’s deflected free-kick levelled things up just before the break before the second half exploded in a glut of goals.
First, Oxlade-Chamberlain slammed home from the edge of the area to make it 2-1 before Sylvain Marveaux equalised nine minutes later. Podolski and Ba exchanged goals at either end before Walcott claimed his second with a precise finish to the roof of the net.
Two goals from substitute Olivier Giroud finally settled the points but there was still time for Walcott to claim his hat-trick with a delightful dink over Tim Krul. The defeat left Newcastle looking nervously over their shoulders, having picked up only two wins from their last 14 matches in all competitions but winger Gabriel Obertan is confident they will not be sucked into a relegation battle.
“We try not to think about that. There are still a lot of games left so we will not focus on that,” he said.
“We play good football so we can’t sit there and start saying ‘we can’t afford to lose this games. It would be hard to start games with that attitude. We have a good group with a lot of quality, it’s just the defensive side that’s killing us at the moment.”
Obertan added: “In our position every game is difficult now so we can only be short term now and focus on getting out of that position and get in the first half of the league. It’s going to be difficult but I think we have the group to do that. We are missing two or three players but that can’t be an excuse, we just need the whole club working together.”
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny 6, Sagna 7, Koscielny 5, Vermaelen 6, Gibbs 7, Arteta 6, Wilshere 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 8 (Giroud 74 8), Cazorla 7 (Coquelin 85), Podolski 7 (Ramsey 82), Walcott 9.
NEWCASTLE (4-4-2): Krul 5; Simpson 5 (Ferguson 82), Perch 6, Coloccini 6, Santon 5; Obertan 6, Bigirimana 6 (Ameobi 82), Tiote 6, Marveaux 7 (Tavernier 88); Cisse 6, Ba 8.
Referee: Chris Foy.
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