Walcott buoyed by Arsenal's 'strongest ever' mental make-up

Arsenal's Theo Walcott (left) challenged by Stoke City's Glen Johnson during the English Premier League in Stoke, Britain, on Jan 17, 2016.
Arsenal's Theo Walcott (left) challenged by Stoke City's Glen Johnson during the English Premier League in Stoke, Britain, on Jan 17, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

LONDON • Pundits have been lining up to question Arsenal's mental toughness and their willingness to dig deep in big games, but Theo Walcott says leadership figures in the dressing room have given the English Premier League leaders a sense of self-belief.

While Arsene Wenger's side have built a reputation for flair and attacking football over the years, they have also found it difficult to maintain a title challenge, with critics pointing to fragile defending and a lack of grit.

Arsenal, who last lifted the title in 2003-04 when they went through the league season unbeaten, lead the standings on goal difference from Leicester City but failed to pad their advantage on Sunday when they were held 0-0 at Stoke.

"The mental strength in this dressing room's the strongest it's ever been," Walcott told the club's website, adding that the arrival of goalkeeper Petr Cech from Chelsea last June had added some steel to the side.

"When you have the likes of Petr Cech come into the dressing room as well, he just enhances that. He's a leader in that dressing room as well.

"We've just got to look at him because he's obviously been at the top level and won many things. We all have the belief he's got that we can push on."

With just seven points separating the leaders from fifth-placed Manchester United after 22 games, Walcott said the title race is still wide open.

"You can't tell what's going to happen this year, it's just so tight," the England international said.

"The amount of teams that could potentially win this league, it's probably going to be the most exciting Premier League for a neutral ever.

"No one can call it at this moment in time, but we're top of the league and we can be proud of that achievement."

Arsenal host champions Chelsea, who are 14th in the league, on Sunday and are set to be boosted by the return of two key players in Mesut Oezil and Alexis Sanchez.

Playmaker Oezil, creator of a league-high 16 assists, missed the Stoke clash with a foot injury while forward Sanchez has not featured for the Gunners since Nov 29 due to a hamstring injury.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Walcott buoyed by Arsenal's 'strongest ever' mental make-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe