Walcott at the double as rampant Arsenal down Basel
Arsenal showed why the Football Association can only dream of hiring Arsene Wenger to take charge of England as Theo Walcott’s double inspired a swaggering 2-0 victory over Basel in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The FA’s decision to part ways with disgraced England manager Sam Allardyce on Tuesday triggered reports that Gunners boss Wenger is the governing body’s top choice to become the national team’s next permanent coach.
But Wenger admitted several years ago he had ignored the FA’s overtures once before and, on the evidence of Arsenal’s burgeoning revival this season, the poisoned chalice of managing England is extremely unlikely to be a tempting prospect.
Coming five days after a 3-0 defeat of Chelsea that Wenger described as almost perfect, another sublime display showed why the Arsenal fans who called for the Frenchman to quit during a turbulent last 18 months should be grateful he decided to stick around for a 20th year with the Gunners.
Walcott netted twice in the first half at the Emirates Stadium to leave Arsenal, now unbeaten in their last eight matches in all competitions, with four points from their first two Group A matches.
Yet those simple facts don’t do justice to the total mastery Arsenal displayed in a spell-binding first half.
“I’d like to congratulate the team on their performance. The first half was top, top quality, like we produced against Chelsea,” Wenger said.
“We had pace, technical quality and movement. My only regret is we didn’t take all our chances.”
Wenger’s team could have scored in the opening moments when Nacho Monreal’s stinging strike forced Basel goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik into action.
It took only seven minutes for Arsenal to go ahead as they ripped through the Basel defence in a swaggering move that showed the confidence flowing through Wenger’s men at present.
Santi Cazorla lofted a deft high pass towards Alexis Sanchez, who timed his run perfectly to escape Basel’s offside trap and advanced into the penalty area before looking up to see Walcott arrowing towards goal.
Sanchez’s cross arrived with laser-guided precision and England winger Walcott, showing the renewed desire which has saved a career in danger of imploding, powered between two Basel defenders to bury his header past Vaclik from close-range.
– Put to the sword –
When Arsenal are at their best, there are few teams in Europe who are such elegant assassins and it was a typically rapier thrust that inflicted the fatal wound on Basel.
Once again it was Sanchez and Walcott who put Basel to the sword, exchanging passes at dizzying speed.
Walcott picked out Sanchez, then raced onto his return ball and, from 12 yards out, drilled low into the far corner for his fifth goal of the season.
Arsenal were so dominant that every attack carried fresh menace for the Swiss side, who found themselves chasing their tails again when Hector Bellerin, Walcott and then Cazorla, with a sumptuous reverse pass, teed up Sanchez for a shot that lacked the power to beat Vaclik.
Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka must have felt a pang of sympathy for his brother Taulant Xhaka, who was a bewildered bystander in Basel’s defence as the Gunners swept forward time and again.
The scoreline wouldn’t have flattered Wenger’s rampant side if they had been five goals ahead by half-time.
Bellerin saw his shot blocked by the over-worked Vaclik, who also denied Sanchez, while Mesut Ozil fired into the side-netting in an endless tidal wave of Arsenal pressure.
Alex Iwobi was narrowly off-target from the edge of the area early in the second half and, not long after, Sanchez should have done better than poke Walcott’s inviting cross wide from a good position.
David Ospina, again preferred to Petr Cech as Arsenal’s European goalkeeper, was finally called into action to tip over Birkir Bjarnason’s long-range effort.
But as Arsenal cruised to victory, Wenger was able to relax on the bench, with thoughts of filling Allardyce’s shoes surely far from his mind.