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.”