x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Arsenal in rude health thanks to Walcott

Arsenal may have dedicated this win to the stricken Aaron Ramsey, but their title challenge is in good health as Theo Walcott inspired victory over Burnley.

Andrey Arshavin, left, celebrates with Theo Walcott after making it 3-1 yesterday.
Andrey Arshavin, left, celebrates with Theo Walcott after making it 3-1 yesterday.

LONDON // Arsenal may have dedicated this win to the stricken Aaron Ramsey, but their title challenge is in good health as Theo Walcott inspired victory over Burnley. Arsene Wenger's side moved level on points with Chelsea in the table thanks to goals from Cesc Fabregas - who later went off injured - Walcott and Andrey Arshavin, with the England winger showing some of his best form. Arsenal needed to win by four goals to go top of the table for a few hours at least, and they would have done so if Nicklas Bendtner, in particular, had been wearing his shooting boots.

Wenger would have been furious if those lapses had denied his side victory, as at one stage seemed likely once David Nugent equalised early in the second half. Yet for Burnley this was a familiar story as they maintain their seemingly unstoppable march towards becoming the team with the worst away record in Premier League history. One point in 15 games away from Turf Moor tells a sorry story, and it is not hard to see why Brian Laws's side are in relegation trouble.

"This was never going to decide our future in the Premier League," said Laws afterwards. "It was always going to be decided at home, but there are pleasing things to take out of the game." Arsenal, of course, have far loftier ambitions, which is why Fabregas's latest hamstring strain is such a concern, especially with a crucial Champions League clash with Porto coming up on Tuesday, for which the Spaniard is now a major doubt.

"Cesc has a hamstring problem and how big the damage is we don't know yet because it's too early," said Wenger. "We'll see on Sunday or Monday. We have to make a late decision over whether he plays on Tuesday, certainly. "As for Theo, he didn't answer any critics other than with a good performance today and that's what you want from a player. That shows he is mentally strong. And if we win our games, we will certainly be there [in the title race]."

Yet despite Wenger's satisfaction, this match summed up many of Arsenal's failings as their lack of a clinical finisher was coupled with hesitancy in defence. However, Walcott was in fine form, brushing aside much of the criticism which came his way after an underwhelming display for England against Egypt in midweek. In the second half he took the game by the scruff of the neck, creating three chances for Bendtner and scoring the decisive second goal himself. Arsenal should have put the game to bed at half-time as they missed a host of chances.

But when the opening goal did arrive it was worth waiting for. Samir Nasri was the instigator, chipping a delightful ball over the Burnley defence for Fabregas to beat Brian Jensen with ease for his 14th Premier League goal of the season. That was to be Fabregas's last contribution, however, as he departed just before half-time, and with him went some of Arsenal's impetus. And they were punished when Nugent was granted the freedom of the penalty area to run on to Leon Cort's headed clearance. There was still work to be done, but the one-time England striker coolly lobbed Manuel Almunia to put his side level.

That stung Arsenal, and Walcott in particular, into action. The winger ensured parity was brief as he added the vital second on the hour mark in style, cutting in from the right and curling a left-footed effort beyond Jensen and into the far corner. Bendtner's shocking afternoon continued with his third bad miss of the day, the Dane shooting wide from six yards from Walcott's perfect cross, but Burnley looked unlikely to come back into the game for a second time.

And it was left to Arshavin to give the scoreline some gloss as he drifted inside and beat Jensen at his near post with virtually the final kick of the game. sports@thenational.ae