After breaking down Olivier Giroud’s equalizer against West Ham, we now shift our focus to Theo Walcott’s winner in the same match. Giroud’s goal was typical Arsenal in that it put on display sharp and efficient passing combined with great movement off the ball. It was also atypical Arsenal – getting the ball into a wide position then scoring from a cross.
Walcott’s goal once again displayed how deadly Arsenal can be when they turn defense into attack. In terms of Walcott, we’ve seen him use his pace to deadly effect numerous times, especially down that right flank. The goal came in the 77th minute, though, Walcott had only been a part of the match for just over a quarter hour after coming on as a sub in the 61st minute. With the game quite open, West Ham took advantage of an unsuccessful corner attempt from Arsenal and pushed forward, switching the play and finding Mohamed Diame isolated with Mikel Arteta on the left flank. Diame this time bettered Arteta but his cross left a lot to be desired as Per Mertesacker easily cut it out. The resulting deflection ended up at the feet of Theo Walcott who found himself by the touchline just seventeen yards out from Arsenal’s end-line.
Walcott lifted his head to see Santi Cazorla dropping back into the massive gap left behind in West Ham’s counter. He then rolled a ball into the space Cazorla was about to run into and took off down the pitch. Cazorla, with two men around him, showed his brilliant awareness and technical ability in one fell swoop. His first touch took him towards his own goal and his next two touches drew the two West Ham midfielders closer. By drawing them towards him, Cazorla opened up the space for either Ramsey or Giroud to occupy. Once again, Cazorla’s intelligence shines in this situation because of awareness to hold on to the ball until Giroud can join into the play. His reverse pass back through the two West Ham midfielders completely eliminated them from the play and the break was on.
Giroud’s first touch powered him past the halfway line, and once again Arsenal found themselves attacking with four players on the counter. West Ham’s back four looked a bit more like a back three as their left back, McCartney, was pushed a little further forward then he needed to be. Giroud recognized this fault in the four and took full advantage as the back three began to narrow. With his second touch, Giroud played a perfectly placed left-footed pass towards Walcott, who had continued his run from his own half. Its important to note here that Giroud waits for West Ham’s left sided central defender to slightly commit himself inside before playing the ball. This slight movement from the defender gave Walcott the time he needed to adjust the ball to his liking with his first touch.
With the goalkeeper the only man between him and the goal, Walcott still had some work to do. Though players find themselves in situations like this countless times, only the top players can go from full speed to composure when they find themselves in front of goal. His first touch was superb. He played the ball towards the goal with his favored right foot and eliminated those defenders making straight runs back towards goal. What he did next made the situation even more in his favor. Walcott let the ball roll across his body back on to his favored right foot.
He now had the option to open his hips and play the ball towards the near post, or make the keeper believe he was going to play to the near post then close his hips at the last moment and aim for the far post. Walcott opted for the former and curled a perfectly placed shot low and hard into the small hole Jussi Jaaskelainen left open.
Arsenal’s second goal of the game ended up being enough for them to take all three points despite Cazorla adding a third several minutes later. Walcott’s punishing pace and composure in front of goal mixed with Cazorla’s awareness and intelligence as well as Giroud’s powerful running and ability to play a pass led to a classic Theo goal. Timing, intelligence, power, and composure combined beautifully to create another Arsenal masterpiece.
Could West Ham’s defense done better? What should the ‘back-three’ have done to help prevent getting done by Walcott’s speed? What could have been done to prevent the defense getting put into that situation in the first place? Feel free to comment below.