Theo Walcott struck a hat-trick to give Arsenal the ideal preparation for next week’s FA Cup final, courtesy of a 4-1 victory over West Brom at the Emirates Stadium on the final day of the Premier League season. Arsenal went into the match having failed to score in three successive home league matches for the first time in six years, but Walcott spectacularly brought the streak to an end within four minutes on Sunday. Walcott scored twice more before the interval, sandwiching a fine strike by Jack Wilshere. Gareth McAuley’s second-half header did little to dampen the spirits at the Emirates as Arsenal secured third place and a direct path into next season’s Champions League group phase.
For Walcott and Wilshere it was a day to savor after their lengthy battles to return from injury, and it was fitting that both ran over to celebrate with the club’s physio after finding the net. And Walcott, in particular, after struggling for a starting place since recovering from a year out, will feel that he has staked a powerful claim to be included against Aston Villa next week. In the space of 34 first-half minutes he exceeded his goal-scoring tally over the rest of the Premier League season. Adding weight to his chances of being among the starters at Wembley, the man who he replaced on Sunday, Olivier Giroud, has failed to score in his last seven outings.
While Arsene Wenger now may have a selection dilemma, he will be delighted that his team has regained their momentum ahead of their attempts to retain the FA Cup. Having previously been in the best form of any Premier League team in 2015, Arsenal’s season was in danger of petering out, following just one win in their last five fixtures. But from the off they were all over a West Brom team that had little but pride to play for, but which was fresh off a 3-0 victory over champions Chelsea on Monday.
Walcott gave the hosts the perfect opening in what was his first Premier League start since March and just his fourth this campaign. Receiving an incisive pass from Alexis Sánchez, the England international, operating in his preferred central striker role, leathered an unstoppable shot into the top far corner of the net. Only 10 minutes passed before Arsenal’s and Walcott’s tally was doubled. Wilshere and Mesut Özil were involved in the buildup before the ball fell kindly to Walcott, who took it skillfully past a sliding challenge and dispatched it low into the net.
Three minutes later it was Wilshere’s turn to take center stage. Sánchez, the club’s standout performer this season, was again involved, this time seeing his shot blocked before Hector Bellerin helped the ball back for Wilshere to strike an outstanding half-volley into the roof of the net. And before halftime it was 4-0. Sánchez and Wilshere were at the heart of it, with a clever one-two, allowing Santi Cazorla to strike the ball across goal for Walcott to tap home from only a yard out.
Arsenal’s only disappointment came as West Brom pulled a goal back just before the hour mark. The goalkeeper position may be one that Wenger looks to address in the summer and David Ospina showed why when failing to get to a corner, enabling McAuley to head into the net. Ospina was almost culpable for a second goal late on, too, when he let Craig Gardner’s long-range shot through his grasp and looked back in relief as it bounced off the top of the crossbar.
But, in truth, the score line could have been far more convincing in Arsenal’s favor. In the space of five minutes substitute Aaron Ramsey could have had a hat-trick but was denied first by the post, then by a stunning Boaz Myhill save onto the crossbar, before he struck wide.