‘Solo Performances That Changed The Game’ – Walcott the Wonderman

Arsenal forward Theo WalcottIn an era when football matches are a constant part of life, cup fixtures still bring that little extra sparkle to the minds of players and fans alike. In the Capital One Cup this season, that sparkle has often translated into goal-scoring frenzies, and on the odd, special occasions, it produces a memorable solo performance from a player who may not always be the centre of attention. In this series, FFC takes a look at some stellar one-man displays…

Theo Walcott’s Arsenal career is reaching a crossroads. At 23 years of age, the versatile forward appears to have been disenchanted with life at the Emirates this season thanks to the influx of players in the last two years – Gervinho, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla and the emerging Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – who offer direct competition for his place in the side. After two consecutive seasons of scoring in double figures, Walcott was disappointed to spend the early stages of this season as an infrequent member of the starting eleven.

Walcott has been waiting for a chance to show what he can really offer up front, and he got that chance earlier this season, sharing the front line with Giroud and out-of-favour Moroccan Marouane Chamakh.

I was just arriving at a local pub with some friends when we heard of Reading’s fourth goal, scored by Stephen Hunt, with less than 40 minutes gone. But if we thought that was unbelievable, the story of the rest of the Capital One Cup 4th Round game was something else. And it was Walcott who popped up with three crucial goals at key moments in the game to inspire a famous Arsenal revival.

His first came on the stroke of half-time, sprinting clear of the Royals’ defence to latch onto an Andrei Arshavin through ball and lift his shot over the onrushing Adam Federici. That goal, which gave the travelling fans hope and quieted chants of “We want our Arsenal back”, set up a second half in which Arsenal were scarcely recognisable from their first-half travesty.

The Gunners still trailed as minutes ticked away, but Walcott was everywhere. Laurent Koscielny, who had already scored an own goal, scored from a Walcott corner in stoppage time before Walcott himself drove home even further into the added time to tie the game at 4-4.

The Englishman wasn’t done yet. After Pavel Pogrebnyak had cancelled out Chamakh’s strike early in extra time, it was Walcott who landed the decisive blow, blasting home from eight yards out as time ticked away in extra time to score Arsenal’s sixth. Almost from the restart Chamakh added a seventh, and one of the most memorable games in recent League Cup history drew to a close.

Many stats will live long in football fandom from this record-breaking night. The two sides had a combined 80 shots, of which 49 were on target; Arsenal’s side featured three debutants; Reading’s first ever defeat from a 4-0 lead was, unbelievably, not the first time the club has recorded a 7-5 defeat (Doncaster Rovers, Third Division, 1982).

One thing should be remembered above all others, though – this was the night that Theo Walcott reminded us all of exactly what he can do on a football pitch. More specifically, in the middle of a football pitch. His goals saved Arsenal and kept them marching on in this year’s Capital One Cup and if he continues to be given the chance up front for the Gunners, who knows how far they can get.