Theo Walcott and Arsenal provide perfect response against Stoke

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Two weeks of nothing in north London gave Arsenal fans plenty of time to ponder as the transfer window snapped shut without a new striker in sight before the action returned this afternoon.

The international break seems to have done Arsene Wenger's men the world of good as they burst into life with a 2-0 win over Stoke at the Emirates Stadium. And, whisper it quietly, they may not need that new striker after all.

That's not because Theo Walcott will fill the gap, though. Walcott has long pined for his chance up front and it seems Arsene Wenger is willing to give him one this season. After starting ahead of Olivier Giroud in the 1-0 win against Chelsea last month, he was picked ahead of the Frenchman once more this afternoon.

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Within the first few minutes, Walcott offered his detractors enough ammunition for a lifetime. A delightful ball from Santi Cazorla found Alexis Sanchez, whose shot hit the post and fell kindly to the former Southampton man. With the goal gaping he somehow conspired to skew his shot wide - the crowd's groan would have been heard across the capital.

A further chance fell his way in the first half when the ball was whipped into the box, but he looped his header harmlessly over the top. It was hard to escape the feeling that an established, clinical finisher like Karim Benzema, say, would have put the ball away without hesitation.

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If the England international was rightly criticised for those missed chances then he deserves plenty of credit for his goal. A long ball behind the Stoke line looked the most likely route of scoring for the Gunners in the first half and that proved to be the case as Ozil looped a pass for Walcott to latch on to. He held off a challenge from Marc Muniesa and forced the ball home after 31 minutes, to his obvious relief.

Two further chances fell Walcott's way in the second half, but he couldn't convert either and he was taken off for Giroud with around 15 minutes remaining. The fact that Giroud missed a gilt-edged chance within seconds of coming on served only to remind that neither are the right man for the job, even if the former popped up to kill off the match inside the final five minutes.


But, and there is a but, that doesn't make either one entirely redundant. Walcott's pace behind Stoke's defence was Arsenal's most potent weapon for much of the game and at his best Giroud can act as a conductor for the talent around him, bringing them into play and providing a platform to bounce ideas and passes off. Both men can help implement a certain type of game plan, even if they aren't the ones to finish it all off.

No, Arsenal's strength lies in their array of talent behind the leading man whoever that may be. Although Alexis Sanchez still looks short of his best after his participation in the Copa America and Mesut Ozil remains elusive, the two possess enough magic between them to see off all but the best. Sanchez hit the post twice early on and really should have scored his first of the season, but it wasn't to be. Some teams have no world class players and while Arsenal fans were desperate for a striker, they should be grateful they have a couple of elite performers amongst their ranks.


If there was anything to worry Wenger it was his side's inability to kill off the game until the very end. Stoke looked toothless and barely fashioned a chance; aside from big-name signing Xherdan Shaqiri there was very little for the visitors to cheer about on their long journey home.

Arsenal now have 10 points from their first five games and after a lumpen start appear to be hitting their stride. The Gunners dominated possession and limited Stoke to just one shot on goal. Next up is a much sterner test against a flagging Chelsea, where more will be revealed about what Wenger's team are made of, and a Champions League tie against Dynamo Zagreb.

But, as warm ups for a big showdown go, their performance was pretty impressive all round.

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Theo Walcott
Stoke City
Premier League

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