Basel bedazzled by the Theo show

Top: Arsenal forward Theo Walcott scoring the opener against FC Basel in the seventh minute on Wednesday. He added a second 19 minutes later. Above: Basel's 25-year-old midfielder Taulant Xhaka (right) swops shirts with his brother Granit Xhaka, 24,
Above: Arsenal forward Theo Walcott scoring the opener against FC Basel in the seventh minute on Wednesday. He added a second 19 minutes later. PHOTOS: REUTERS
Above: Basel's 25-year-old midfielder Taulant Xhaka (right) swops shirts with his brother Granit Xhaka, 24, of Arsenal after the match.
Above: Basel's 25-year-old midfielder Taulant Xhaka (right) swops shirts with his brother Granit Xhaka, 24, of Arsenal after the match. PHOTOS: REUTERS

LONDON • Theo Walcott's shoulders slumped a little as the board was hoisted. The winger stood in the middle of the pitch, hands on his hips and disbelief etched across his brow.

His number was up just as he was contemplating plundering the hat-trick his performance had deserved. He trudged to the touchline as the majority in The Emirates Stadium chorused their appreciation.

That reception, and this saunter to the top of Group A in the Champions League, should serve as consolation. This was another scintillating performance from Arsenal, and it was the bite offered by Walcott that wounded Basel in the 2-0 win.

This was the first time he had scored twice in a Champions League game for almost nine years but on this form and with his team maintaining their upbeat rhythm of recent weeks, he can be prolific.

Only Robin van Persie has scored more goals in this stadium than Walcott's 45. It is undoubtedly about time Walcott imposed himself consistently at this level, but there is still time for the 27-year-old to fulfil his potential.

On this evidence, a player who was used as a substitute in Sam Allardyce's only game in charge of England may have a part to play from the start in Gareth Southgate's first match as interim manager, against Malta next month.

"The best recommendation (for an England recall) is his performances," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "It's difficult to ignore him if you see him playing like this, but I will leave that to Southgate."

Basel, a team already 13 points clear at the top of the Swiss league, had no answer and duly subsided to their first defeat of the season.

They wilted under Arsenal's first-half onslaught that, just as against Chelsea last Saturday, effectively settled the contest.

"We know exactly how we want to play football. That demands complete focus, some leadership inside the squad and some humility," Wenger added. "It's down to hard work, but also to belief. The confidence comes from the last few results, too. We hadn't beaten Chelsea at home for a few games, and now it looks like we're playing with full power and pace."

It was all too much for Basel and leaves Arsenal top of the group with Paris Saint-Germain.

With back-to-back matches against Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets to come, the Gunners have a great opportunity to try and take a stranglehold on top spot - vital to avoid drawing one of the favourites in the first knockout round. Arsenal have exited the competition in the last 16 for the past six seasons.

"We cannot get ahead of ourselves though, we have a lot to do and hopefully the past can change," said Walcott.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Basel bedazzled by the Theo show'. Print Edition | Subscribe