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Theo Walcott gave Arsene Wenger yet another reminder of his goalscoring talents as he netted a stunning hat-trick to sink Newcastle United in a 10-goal thriller at the Emirates Stadium.
Wenger had talked up Walcott as the next Thierry Henry yesterday, and the England forward – still to pen a new deal with the club – did little to disprove that idea on this memorable evening, scoring three excellent goals and setting up two more to give Arsenal the win that ensures they will end 2012 in fifth place, two points behind Chelsea and three adrift of Tottenham Hotspur with a match in hand.
Arsenal's record scorer Henry was in the stands watching his beloved former club and he was on his feet after 20 minutes thanks to Walcott's opener – a fine curled finish following an Henry-esque break from the halfway line. Newcastle pulled level through Demba Ba, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored, only for Ba to grab his second to make it 2-2.
The Gunners looked set for a disappointing draw after Sylvain Marveaux equalised Lukasz Podolski's header, but Walcott turned on the class to put the Gunners 4-3 up. The former Southampton man set up Olivier Giroud twice and added his much-deserved third strike in injury time with a deft chip over Tim Krul after a mazy run into the penalty area.
Walcott has scored four goals and won one decisive penalty in the three games he has started up front and he now has 14 for the season, but there were no early indications that this would turn out to be a thriller in the opening quarter as both teams started sluggishly. Other than a couple of bits of skill from Santi Cazorla, Arsenal started poorly.
Walcott, eager to show he can cut it as a striker, used his pace to break behind the Newcastle defence, but Krul rushed off his line to clear and the visitors had the best chance of the opening quarter of an hour through Ba who somehow headed over Marveaux's corner from eight yards.
The quiet atmosphere inside the Emirates Stadium lifted after 19 minutes when Podolski slotted Walcott in behind the Magpies defence and the England international raced through before caressing the ball past Krul in to the far corner. The goal was reminiscent of many strikes from Henry and thus brought the Frenchman to his feet in the stands.
Walcott was in the thick of the action again just before half-time, wriggling free from his marker, but Dutch goalkeeper came off his line to stop the 23-year-old's shot.
Cheick Tiote, who scored the equaliser in February's 4-4 thriller, almost brought the visitors level six minutes before the break with a swirling 25-yard drive that Wojciech Szczesny awkwardly punched away.
Walcott immediately flew up the other end, but he laid a square pass behind the un-marked Cazorla, rather than in front of him and Gael Bigirimana cut the danger out. Arsenal were made to pay for the error just over two minutes from the break.
Bacary Sagna fouled Gabriel Obertan 25 yards out and Ba's resulting set-piece flew off Jack Wilshere's head in to the Arsenal goal past the stranded Szczesny.
Arsenal came out much stronger after the break. Kieran Gibbs drew a save from Krul at his near post shortly before Oxlade-Chamberlain beat the Netherlands international to make it 2-1. Podolski intercepted a weak throw-in, heading the ball to Cazorla, who found Oxlade-Chamberlain and he made no mistake with a low diagonal drive from 20 yards.
Always a threat Walcott somehow muscled Tiote off the ball and charged at goal, but tis time dragged his shot horribly wide. Once again Arsenal were made to pay as Newcastle equalised. Obertan turned Sagna inside out before his cross was deflected off Koscielny and in to the path of the unmarked Marveaux who tapped in to an empty net from barely two yards.
But in a remarkably open match Arsenal were back ahead within five minutes. Wilshere charged at the Newcastle defence and chipped a wonderful ball to the back post. Coloccini could only head his clearance against the bar and the ball fell to Podolski who nodded home the easiest finish of his career to make it 3-2.
The 60,000 fans inside the Emirates Stadium barely had time to draw breath before Newcastle equalised again. Marveaux bought time with his trickery before swinging a ball to the back post where Ba bustled Gibbs out of the way to turn the ball past Szczesny.
The home crowd blasted their team's sloppy defending, but Walcott dug them out of trouble five minutes later with Arsenal's fourth. Gibbs slotted the ball across the area for Podolski, he missed ball, but Walcott was standing just behind him and he swivelled to fire in to the roof of Krul's goal.
Substitute Giroud then killed off the game with five minutes left, latching on to Walcott's cross to head between Krul's legs, and the Frenchman rubbed salt in to Newcastle's wounds by slotting past Krul to make it 6-3 after Walcott charged at the Magpies’ defence.
Walcott then got the hat-trick he deserved in injury time, picking himself off the turf after being flattened by Tiote before chipping the ball over Krul with an exemplary finish.
Arsenal could have had an eighth in injury time, and Giroud a hat-trick of his own, but the France striker’s header cannoned off the bar, enabling Walcott to leave the scene with the match ball to a standing ovation and chants of "sign him up" from the home crowd.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "It was not as comfortable as the score indicated. We played against a good team. They were always a threat going forwards, they gave us many problems. I believe we started a bit nervous, not completely relaxed, and at half-time 1-1 was a fair result. Second half we were on the ball higher up and were much more dangerous but they always came back.
“We cannot ask much more than three goals and the performance [Theo Walcott] gave today. I said I'm convinced that he can play in there – he has qualities – and he can only improve the more he plays there. He can play in the other position on the left, right or through the middle and it is good because Giroud is basically a centre-forward only so I can play the two together.
"My desire is to extend [Walcott’s] contract. I think he belongs here. Hopefully we can do it. I think he loves the club and the club loves him and the reciprocity in love is the most difficult to find."
"Today just typifies what I think he can do through the middle. The first goal was a Thierry Henry-type goal and he showed great determination with the third. He has become a good finisher. He has learned a lot because he is an intelligent player and because he is intelligent he will continue to improve."
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew: "I thought when we got back to 3-3 we should have shut up shop. I honestly think that would not have happened. We certainly wouldn't have had a scoreline like we had [if Arsenal had played on Boxing Day].
"The [difference in] energy levels between the two teams was evident at the end. One team was energised, the other was really leggy. That's why we ended up with score that we did. The last 15-20 minutes was a fresh team against a tired team and perhaps a bit of inexperience on our bench resulted in the scoreline.
"We're just so disappointed that we didn't get something out of it before then. The goals we conceded before then were not, not good and that's been our problem. For 70 minutes it was pretty tight, I thought we were giving a good account of ourselves but their freshness and the brightness towards the end of the game was just too much for us and we couldn't cope. The game really hurt us today but we know at the back we need to do better."
|01 Jan 2013||v Southampton (A)|
|13 Jan 2013||v Man City (H)|
|20 Jan 2013||v Chelsea (A)|
|23 Jan 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|30 Jan 2013||v Liverpool (H)|
|02 Feb 2013||v Stoke (H)|