25 May 2015

Walcott and Wilshere lay waste to the want-away rumours...

It was a throw-away line, a bit of vanity, that I tossed in as an afterthought. In hindsight, though, I should have seen it coming. My predictions, after all, had been off-base in recent weeks. I kept calling for wins and we staggered to draws, even a loss. I started to doubt my ability to see into, nay, control the future. 3-1 over Swansea? 1-2 over Man U? What was I thinking? And then...and then...in a moment of inspiration, as I sought to regain control of the future, I reached very far back into the past—24 May 2009, to be more precise—to point out that the last Prem we played on this auspicious day was against none other than Tony Pulis's Stoke, a match we won by the even-more auspicious scoreline of 4-1. There's no other conclusion to be drawn: I control this club's future!

Okay, so I exaggerate. But only by a little. Trust me: if I had any influence over this club's future, we'd've won every single match we played on our way to an unprecedented quadruple. That didn't happen, by the way, so I have less influence over this club's performance than does Abou Diaby. Having come to grips with my place in the universe, let's get back to the match.

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. Where has this "Theo" chap been and how is it that we've kept him under wraps for so long? I was still trying to ring up the agents of Saido Berahino and Sadio Mané when Walcott waltzed out and scored a first-half hat-trick—a feat interrupted only by Jack Wilshere's goal. Theo ran circles around a West Brom defense that looked so discombobulated that it was easy to forget how well-drilled they've been under Tony Pulis. Yes, they had little to play for but pride, but even pride should be enough to stave off a hiding like this one. Down 4-0 by halftime, one might have thought that they were already relegated. Nonetheless, Theo seemed to have recovered the kind of form we hadn't seen from him since before his injury. Gone, it seems, were the lingering doubts from that injury. Gone, it seems, were the persistent concerns about his ability.

It's not just the hat-trick itself but the manner in which he claimed it: a cracking, tight-angled shot from the right. A second as he knifes in from the left. The third as he sneaks in behind the defense on the right to poke it home. In addition to those, he kept on driving directly and deeply into the Baggies' backline, forcing corners and tough saves from Myhill, reminding us all of what we've been missing for most of the last 18 months. Rumours of his departure, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated.

Not to be outdone, Wilshere delivered a masterful performance of his own, chipping in with a goal and an assist (sort of) while helping to dominate the midfield. It's strange to think that it wasn't so long ago that we were pondering the possibility that both men might have seen and squandered their last, best chances at Arsenal. Instead, each of them served emphatic reminders of what they're capable of when fit. Even if the display came against a squad comfortably nestled into mid-table mediocrity, they'd conceded just one goal from their previous five matches, this should take nothing away from what each lad achieved. Heck, before the Baggies even had a chance to throw in the towel, Theo had a brace, the first goal a stunner that would earn a spot in most best-of-season highlights.

Nevermind the FA Cup—yes, it seems that Theo has staked a claim to starting—this is the kind of game-changing performance that we should hope to see from the man almost every weekend next season. This is not to say that he's ready to play through the middle on a regular basis. He's still at his best when he can get behind a defense, but to assign him a side seems to diminish his effectiveness. He's not a striker, not in our system, but he could pose even more of a threat reprising the role he played on Sunday, roaming across the front-line and plunging in to cut opponents open from the left, the right, or the middle.

It was a joyous resurrection, even if it did little to affect our position on the table. Then again, Theo did help us to secure a third-place finish, and with it, outright qualification for Champions League next season. Let Man U slog through a qualifier in Turkey or Ukraine. We're in—and we didn't have to spend £150m to get there!