Arsenal just completed a sensational comeback in the Captial One Cup fourth round against English Premier League strugglers Reading. In one of the craziest and most emotionally-draining matches this author has ever had the priviledge to witness, Theo Walcott inspired an Arsenal team that trailed 4-0 in the first half, to an eventual 7-5 triumph.
Walcott's performance showed what he is capable of when he decides to combine intelligent movement with his lightning pace and natural authority in front of goal. He provided evidence of the kind of damage he can do in central areas.
Playing through the middle is something Walcott has clamoured for and is a sticking point in his current negotiations concerning a new deal. Arsenal needed Walcott, who has still not signed a new contract, at his best after they were ripped apart during the first half an hour.
Reading mauled a sluggish and tentative Arsenal team and beat them to the ball in every area of the pitch. Manager Brian McDermott's plucky team moved the ball quickly and confidently and exposed Arsenal's frailties dealing with an aerial threat.
Bullish striker Jason Roberts opened the scoring and Reading added three more goals, as Arsene Wenger's squad, comprising a mix of youngsters along with veterans who should've known better, appeared shell shocked. Arsenal needed something, any kind of consolation and hope before half time.
Walcott provided just that when he made an instinctive and direct run through the middle. He was found by Andrei Arshavin and he calmly lobbed the goalkeeper to finally get Arsenal on the scoreboard. Walcott was nowhere near finished, and in the second period, proceeded to cause havoc in the Reading defense.
His quick and varied movement frightened Reading defenders and constantly put Walcott in promising positions. He nearly doubled his tally at the start of the half with a sharp left-foot shot, after drifitng smartly across the box.
Eventually, Walcott turned provider, whipping in a dangerous corner that substitute Olivier Giroud turned into the net with a powerful header. With ninety minutes fast approaching, Walcott delivered another enticing corner, enabling Laurent Koscielny to direct a thumping header in for Arsenal's third.
Still Arsenal probed for an equaliser and Walcott was causing problems drifitng in from the right flanks, across the front of the Reading back four and then darting between the full-back and central defender. It's the kind of run he should make more often and it paid dividends deep, deep into injury time.
Giroud knocked the ball down in the box with a deft header and Walcott glided in to eventually turn the ball over the line. The officials didn't signal a goal until Carl Jenkinson smashed in the loose ball, but the goal was rightly Walcott's before Reading hoiked the ball away.
In extra time Marouane Chamakh emerged from the fringes to net a well-taken goal and give Arsenal their first lead at 5-4. Walcott then might have sealed it after another darting run, but his close-range shot was saved.
Although Reading equalised, Arsenal reasserted their dominance almost immediately. Arshavin showed a burst of pace Arsenal fans could be forgiven for forgetting he had and slammed a cross-shot into the area.
The ball came loose and Walcott pounced, smashing in his third goal. The decisive strike showcased Walcott's instincts as a poacher in the box, a quality that is underrated in the England speedster.
Chamakh claimed another nice goal to finally let Gunners fans everywhere relax a little and finish proceedings 7-5 in Arsenal's favour. The dramatic comeback owed much to the chaos Walcott caused across Reading's back line.
Giroud and fellow substitute young German schemer Thomas Eisfeld, performed well, but it was Walcott who was Arsenal's match-winner. He has certainly strengthened his case for some opportunities as a central striker in the near future and has also improved his negotiating position for the next round of contract talks.
On this evidence, Wenger would be wise to tweak his current formation to position Walcott through the middle more often. He could now be even more tempted to ensure the fleet-footed forward doesn't become the latest high-profile Arsenal star to run down his contract and head for the exit.