Walcott takes centre stage for Arsenal to prove himself a worthy leading man

The England winger-come-striker showed his lethal finishing ability to give the Gunners the lead against West Ham, and in the process staked a claim to lead the line permanently
By Ewan Roberts at Upton Park

It was Arsenal's forgotten men who proved the difference as the north London side stumbled their way past West Ham; Olivier Giroud, who has enjoyed a torrid start to life in England, opened the scoring before providing the assist from which Theo Walcott gave Arsenal the lead.

Walcott has had a precarious time of late. Unsure of his place at the club, unwilling to sign a new contract and unhappy with the role Arsene Wenger has instructed him to play, he has spent much of this season on the bench, reduced to the role of an impact player.

In the meantime, former-Lille wide-man Gervinho has been fielded through the middle – Walcott's desired role – and has flourished centrally while Walcott has looked on from the bench.

But against West Ham, Walcott gave a cameo that hinted at his potential to lead the line, and showcased what a clinical and composed finisher he has become. Running on to Giroud's excellent pass, Walcott took a touch, steadied himself and slotted the ball past Jussi Jaaskelainen.

However, this wouldn't be the first time Walcott has impressed through the middle, and as yet he's failed to capitalise on that promise by commanding a regular starting berth up front.

His two goals against Tottenham at the end of last season exemplified his growing ease in front of goal; first he neatly dinked the ball over Brad Friedel and then he drilled a low shot past the American and into the far corner.

Perhaps what Walcott has lacked in the past is a consistency with his finishing, especially in crucial moments, and a reliability to deliver when it matters. His talent and potential has never truly been in question, but his ability to perform on a week-by-week basis has.

Wenger has always stressed that Walcott would have the opportunity to move into the central striker berth he cherishes, but only once his game had matured, once he could affect the match more consistently, once he could affect big matches at big moments.

And that is exactly what Walcott did at Upton Park. With Arsenal drawing and under quite significant pressure from the Hammers, with West Ham’s burly, physical centre-backs proving immovable in the second half and with the palms of Jaaskelainen rarely stung, it was Walcott who made the telling breakthrough.

There was a Thierry Henry-ness about Walcott's goal; it wafted of confidence, arrogance even, as he broke through, gave West Ham's Finnish goalkeeper the eyes and then passed the ball into the net.

When Henry would bear down on goal there was an inevitability about what was to come next, and that is becoming true of Arsenal's current number 14 too. Speaking after the match, Wenger alluded to Walcott's new-found dependability in front of goal: "He has that in him, I said that many times,” the Frenchman told Sky Sports.

"But before, one or two years ago, or two or three years ago, when he got in front of the keeper you were not always sure he would finish well. Now you are nearly convinced he will score."

Though Giroud scored and assisted against West Ham, though Gervinho has enjoyed a good goal-scoring run of late, Arsenal do not have a consistent "big game" finisher, a scorer of important, match-winning goals. Until now. Now they can call on Walcott.

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