Theo Walcott has warned his Arsenal teammates they are in danger of losing the battle to finish in the Premier League’s top four unless they play with more urgency.
Arsene Wenger’s side head into today’s London derby against West Ham United on the back of successive league defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea which have left their bid to qualify for the UEFA Champions League in crisis.
The Gunners, languishing in sixth spot, trail fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur by seven points and sit 11 points adrift of third-placed Chelsea.
Failure to book a place in Europe’s elite competition would be a devastating blow to a club already in decline after more than seven years without a trophy and victory over West Ham is essential to keep that bid alive, and, just as importantly, restore a little belief among disillusioned fans and anxious players.
Walcott, who scored in Sunday’s 2-1 loss at Chelsea, agrees with Wenger that Arsenal have played too timidly in recent weeks, and he called on the players to show more aggression and desire.
“There are a lot of teams that have got stronger this year, so we need to step on the gas. We don’t want to be playing catch-up. We want to get points on the board,” Walcott said. “We have a tough game at home against West Ham, so we need to be ready. It is a massive game, we have home support and we need to start clocking up points there. We have been hot and cold at home of late, so we must be very positive and if we show the commitment that we did in the second half against Chelsea, we should be fine. We need to show that character to win from the start, not when we concede a goal.”
If Arsenal are to win their game in hand on Tottenham, they need a big performance from England international Walcott, who last week ended months of speculation about his future by agreeing a new contract.
Walcott was linked with several clubs as the end of his contract approached, but Arsenal’s desire to hold on to the winger after a host of star sales over the past 18 months forced the Gunners to give him a three-and-a-half-year deal, pushing his wages close to ￡100,000 (US$158,600) a week.
The 23-year-old, who was back on the wing against Chelsea after playing in his preferred central striker role for several weeks, revealed it was difficult to concentrate while his future remained in doubt.
“For the last three games before Chelsea the contract was sort of done, but it was on my mind and had been for a long time because it was so close,” Walcott said. “It is difficult to play and block out that side of it, but I tried to do the best I could and hopefully everyone was happy with what I did. I always wanted to stay, and I am happy that myself and the club have come to an agreement.”
The main threat to Arsenal’s hopes of a much-needed win is likely to come from West Ham playmaker Joe Cole.
The former Chelsea and Liverpool star is in his second spell with the Hammers and scored his first goal for the club in 10 years on Saturday to earn a 1-1 draw against Queens Park Rangers.
West Ham will be without Morocco forward Marouane Chamakh, who is ineligible to play as he is on loan from Arsenal, but Cole still believes they can end a disappointing run of one win in seven league games.
“You can have difficult moments in the season and if you can pick up points in the difficult moments you do all right,” he said. “Let’s focus on the next game at Arsenal. We want to take something from that, then you go from there. We’ve just got to go there and stifle Arsenal a little bit, and then maybe we can do something.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday said that he had called in the “third umpire” as he announced that recreational cricket would be allowed to resume next weekend. In a radio interview earlier on Friday, Johnson angered thousands of club cricketers by saying that the amateur game was still not safe to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic because of issues surrounding communal teas and dressing rooms. “It’s the teas, it’s the changing rooms and so on and so forth. There are other factors involved that generate proximity which you might not get in a game of tennis,” he said. Johnson had already
Hong Kong media reported that police briefly detained a man in a Liverpool team jersey who shouted “long live Liverpool” during anti-government protests on Wednesday, over suspicion that he was inciting independence. In-Media reported that the man was across the street from police officers who were conducting stop-and-searches on a group of protesters, when he shouted: “Long live Liverpool.” Others reportedly cheered and joined in the chant, before officers detained him. The man told In-Media that police had accused him of inciting Hong Kong independence, which now is a punishable crime. He said that he has been a fan of the English soccer
Indian police are investigating an alleged betting scandal in which a sham cricket tournament was held in an Indian village and passed off as a Twenty20 contest played in Sri Lanka. Players portrayed as Sri Lankan cricketers played two matches on Monday last week that were broadcast with live commentary on YouTube, media reports said, along with ball-by-ball coverage on top Indian sports Web sites. The organizers hung Sri Lankan advertisements at the ground for added authenticity and put up tents to block the view from outside the remote rural venue, set in farmland next to a busy highway. Police said that they
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet is already in Florida with the rest of his Toronto teammates, and he knows the time to take a stand and counter the NBA plan to restart the season has passed, but his opinion on the matter has not changed. “It sucks,” VanVleet said on Monday in a videoconference of his choice to return to the court during the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter campaign. “It’s terrible timing, but that’s been 2020 for us. We all know the right thing to do is to not play, to take a stand. Morally, yes, that makes sense, but