Where’s Wally? He’s right bloody here, that’s where

Arsenal 4-1 WBA

Walcott’s pootled along this season, slowly recovering his potency – oh so slowly – not always convincing on his infrequent forays off the bench, and nobody would have given him a cat’s chance in hell of making the starting eleven for the cup final on Saturday.

Until yesterday.

As timing things to perfection goes, that was straight from the It’s Up For Grabs Now handbook.

Theo was phenomenal, playing through the middle, causing absolute havoc. If he’d spontaneously combusted towards the end of the first half I don’t think anyone would have been massively surprised. He was that hot.

I’d say the general view is that Giroud will start, but I’m not so sure. Compare and contrast yesterday: when Giroud came on he looked languid and tired, much as he has done for the last handful of games. Walcott was the polar opposite. If you were picking the cup final side on form, you’d have to play Walcott, wouldn’t you?

It reminded me of the game he got injured against the Totts. Almost everything he touched turned to goals – that first one was just outrageous from that angle. It was, as my nephew says, ‘toast and meatballs’.

The second was less Hollywood but more deft, a shimmy then a smart finish, and by this point there was no stopping him.

The third, a tap-in, sealed the deal. I’d like to think I could have scored that one but the reality is I’d have been 50 yards back with my arms on my hips, searching for my inhaler, as red as a beetroot.

Wilshere was equally as convincing, though I’m not sure he has as good a chance of starting as Walcott does for the simple reason that the player he’d need to displace – Ramsey in all likelihood – is himself playing very well. Welsh Jesus hit the bar twice when he came on, a gentle reminder that Wenger is going to need to double-dose on Anadin ahead of picking his midfield.

As for his goal, it was a rising rocket. Vieira v Newcastle in 98. Goals don’t get much better than that.

The second half was a non-event by comparison, but that always happens after first halves that scintillating. Plus, who wants to get injured ahead of the cup final?

Everyone else contributed to the spectacle, with the only worry being the form of Ospina. He did not cover himself in glory either for the Baggies’ goal or for the fumbled long-ranger. Can Szczesny expect a call? I can’t see it. He’d surely have had a warm-up game first. The relationship there is irrevocably broken.

Overall, pretty much the perfect way to end the season, a return to goalscoring form after a mini-drought, and some lovely, lively and convincing auditions for the big one on Saturday.

WARNING: POINTLESS LINE-UP CONJECTURE IMMINENT.

My mind is racing to Saturday already. Don’t lie to me – yours is too. How would I line up for the final? Based on form (and in Ospina’s case, other factors) I say Ospina, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Bellerin, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey, Walcott.

Sorry Jack, sorry Olivier. Some amazing potential stories in that line-up though, if it came to pass. The rise of Bellerin. Monreal displacing Gibbs. Coquelin the phoenix from the ashes. Walcott coming from nowhere.*

*But what do I know. Plus, I reserve the right to change my mind between now and Saturday.

There’s more in this side, somewhere

Arsenal 2-0 Everton

There should, ordinarily, be no reason at all why a 2-0 victory should not elicit a sense of complete wellbeing. So why did I leave the ground feeling a bit flat? I wasn’t the only one.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but the hangover element was certainly one aspect. We did get a reaction from Monaco as expected but it was, perhaps not surprisingly, far from the swashbuckling all-guns-blazing performance that the daydreamer in my head keeps yearning for.

It was, until the latter stages at least, pretty hard to get excited about. Part of that was Everton, who were subdued themselves. But we were one-paced for too much of the game. I do appreciate that this makes me sound like the neediest football fan of all time. I’m not, honestly I’m not, and I am obviously glad that we bounced back and that we’re sitting third, just four points off second. History will after all mark this down as three points.

But deep down, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we are capable of so much more, and that’s the frustrating thing for me at the moment. It feels like we are not realising our potential.

We started so slowly, and it immediately transmitted to the crowd, which – where I sit at least – was as flat as a pancake for the opening third of the game. It felt like a training match and the crowd couldn’t get going at all.

I don’t think the Emirates crowd’s default mode is silence – though there’s no disputing Arsenal is a quieter place than it used to be. In fact, there have been some raucous evenings in the Wengerbowl. I’ve had bruised ankles falling down between the seats, I’ve hugged and high-fived numerous strangers and I’ve shouted myself hoarse. One match I lost my brother completely after we’d scored a goal. He hurtled off down the aisle and I found him about five minutes later looking sheepish down by Gunnersaurus.

So it can be a cracking buzz.

But I do think that the crowd takes its lead from the team. How it races out the blocks, how it hustles and harries and how it springs forward at pace and with menace. We feed off the dynamism of the team, and for too many home matches this season, we’ve just not been that dynamic. We’ve had a cutting edge, but not as often as we’ve needed it.

Down our end, the biggest reaction was when Gabriel slid that perfectly-timed leg in to prevent Lukaku from firing a shot off. We were on our feet and giving it everything. But those moments were few and far between until the game stretched a bit towards the end.

It was the same against Leicester, and we were hopelessly timid away at our neighbours in N17. So while we’re doing pretty well on paper in the league, it feels like there are very much still some missing ingredients. Are we missing Ramsey, Wilshere and Arteta? Almost certainly.

Is there something more? It feels that way to me. We’ve been tinkering on how we play away from home, but I certainly don’t think we’ve nailed down the best way to play in our own backyard. We seem to play too narrowly, and are unsure whether to stick or twist going forward. We lack the ability to play with real tempo for long periods of time.

It’s been that kind of season to be honest. Some progress, but some regression. Still not quite right, but rarely calamitously bad.

As for the highlights, I thought Gabriel looked decent on his Premier League debut and it’s a huge relief to have that third centre-back we can bring in. We’re finally rotating in that position, and we’ve needed to.

James wonders on the Arsecast Extra whether Gibbs has not progressed enough, and perhaps he’s right. But it wasn’t that long ago that he was easily our first choice at left back. If it hadn’t been for injury then you never know – though I do agree that we need more end result from him. His injuries are a big factor though, in my view.

Ospina was excellent, Bellerin was good and the midfield worked hard without excelling. Rosicky’s cameo gave us the energy we needed to make it a less fretful finale.

But overall, we’re still searching for the elixir.

Cup tonic needed. Simply add gin.

Two wins and one defeat later, and it’s Happy New Year from me. Six points punctured by the now typical blip and Wenger readily admits we’re “haunted by the ghost of what we have seen since the start of the season”.

Finding a way to exorcise these ghoulish switch-offs is crucial, but it’s going to take more than garlic to add some tempo and nous to our daydreamers.

We could issue the players with crosses to wave when the ghosts turn up, but I don’t advise it. Us and crosses – weak spot.

Nor is it the only item on our to-do list.

So it felt odd that the first thing on the lengthening January list was off-loading Podolski. I understand why it happened, to be honest, but could it not have waited until the end of the month? What’s the logic in doing that now? Was he that much of an agitator? It’s not like we’re leathering goals in from all angles at the moment, is it.

Still, Poldi has gone and good luck to him. I will be interested to see where he is played and how he does. Will the same fissures be evident (workrate, etc) or will he prove Wenger wrong? Hard to teach an old dog new tricks but it will be interesting nonetheless.

So onto the third round of the cup today, and here’s to going two-nil down then fighting back heroically. Great memories from last season, but this (as they always are after a sapping defeat) is no break from the rigours of the Premier League. There’s no room for error.

But this game comes after a gruelling schedule and I can’t imagine it will be a sparkling attacking adventure. Hull have hit some form, we’re maddeningly hard to judge but at home. Everyone’s a bit weary. Call it if you dare but I have no idea.

Theo Walcott has said “I’m blowing the cobwebs away”.

If ‘The Cobwebs’ is the new nickname for Hull City, then we’re in for a treat.

I do love the FA Cup, though, so I’m bobbling-hatting it up and heading off with the boy.

Come on you leggy reds!