Walcott epitomises hardy new Gunners

Theo Walcott training yesterday for Arsenal's Champions League clash against Bulgarian side Ludogorets. The resilient north London team are behind Premier League leaders Manchester City just on goal difference.
Theo Walcott training yesterday for Arsenal's Champions League clash against Bulgarian side Ludogorets. The resilient north London team are behind Premier League leaders Manchester City just on goal difference.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • After crumbling at the first sign of pressure far too often in recent years, Arsenal are finally showing signs of developing a steely spine and Theo Walcott is the unlikely standard bearer.

Arsene Wenger's side have been guilty of squandering numerous chances to mount Premier League title challenges and go deep in the Champions League due in a large part to a woeful lack of backbone.

Yet, Saturday's 3-2 league win over Swansea at the Emirates Stadium was the latest sign of a more resolute nature taking hold among Wenger's squad.

With Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets Razgrad visiting north London today in the Champions League, Arsenal have an opportunity to show their attacking talents.

But it was the way they dug deep to see off Swansea that was more encouraging for Walcott. The winger scored twice in the first half before Mesut Ozil's goal put them 3-1 ahead in the 57th minute.

However, Swansea reduced the deficit and Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was sent off moments later to leave the hosts to play the last 20 minutes with 10 men.

It was the kind of perilous situation that may well have induced a fatal wobble from Arsenal in the past, but Wenger's men battened down the hatches and, with Walcott working tirelessly across the forward line, they managed to hold on for victory.

Walcott, in the past a fragile underachiever himself, feels the gritty Swansea result provides proof the current group has matured and is ready to challenge for honours.

"I don't think they (Ludogorets) will be looking forward to playing us, that's for sure," said the 27-year-old.

Arsenal have been dumped out of the Champions League last 16 in the last six campaigns but Walcott is confident his side have learnt from their mistakes.

"Everyone will say that this is a fixture we should win and we know we should win it. But we've got to make sure we're ready and we can't be too complacent. That's really important," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Walcott epitomises hardy new Gunners'. Print Edition | Subscribe