Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal 2 Basel 0: Walcott has worked hard to rediscover his sparkling best form, reveals jubilant Wenger

By Matt Gatward

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was delighted with the performance of Theo Walcott after the winger scored both goals in the 2-0 win over Basel in the Champions League at the Emirates last night, but said his improvement in form was down to the player not the manager's words of wisdom in their conversation at the end of the last campaign.

Walcott failed to make an impression on the team at the back end of last season - and subsequently was left out of England's fateful Euro 2016 campaign - and he sought out Wenger for a chat about how he could improve.

"That is not the chat that makes you score goals," Wenger said. "He assessed well where he stands and rectified well what he needs to add to his game. That is 95 per cent down to him."

Walcott now has an outstanding chance of being named in the England squad when it is announced on Sunday by the new interim manager Gareth Southgate, following Sam Allardyce's well-publicised departure.

"His best recommendation is his performances," Wenger added. "It is difficult to ignore him if you take the best English players and you see him play tonight. I will leave that to... Southgate now."

The pause was telling but Wenger did not want to wade into the Allardyce saga.

"Honestly, because I was focused on this game I didn't follow it too much," he said. "It is a huge surprise. Who could have predicted that 48 hours ago? Nobody. But the English game is always full of surprises."

Wenger's name has again come up in relation to the England job - a role he could take up at the end of the season when his Arsenal contract expires. Was it flattering for him to be linked again with the position?

"Of course, but my priority has always been this club," he responded.

"Until the end of this season I am here and completely focused on that. (My future beyond that) is not decided. My priority is always to Arsenal Football Club and then I have to assess how well I do until the end of the season."

Alexis Sanchez impressed in the striker's role again - the only surprise was that he didn't score. He missed the target once and had three efforts saved.

"Sanchez has the ingredients to do very well as centre forward," Wenger said. "He is getting stronger in every game."

He was key as Arsenal played some wonderful football in the victory over the Swiss side, reminiscent of the win over Chelsea last weekend. Wenger was impressed but was just unhappy they had not scored more than the two goals.

"The game in the first half was top quality: the pace, the movement, our technical quality," he said. "We created many dangerous situations. I congratulate our team for the quality. My one regret is that we didn't take more of our chances but it is a good basis to have a taste for more.

"We eased off a bit (in the second half) - we couldn't score the third goal. We still had plenty of chances. But it is difficult to maintain that pace, the accuracy and the speed of the passing for 90 minutes. The first half was top, top quality like what we produced against Chelsea.

"It's down to hard work but as well it's belief and that comes from the last results. We were a bit edgy at home for a few games - now it looks like we are playing with full power and pace. I think we still need to continue to improve - I think we can do better. That is down to humility. Tomorrow we start again and focus on our next game.

"It looks like the team has interesting potential. So we have to be ambitious but keep our feet on the ground and continue to develop. We know exactly how we want to play football but we have to continue to focus on that and get better at it. That demands big focus, some leadership inside the squad and some humility."

Could they win the Champions League then? "It's too early (to say that). It is very much too early," he added.

ARSENAL: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal (Gibbs, 75 mins), Walcott (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 70 mins), Cazorla, Xhaka, Iwobi (Elneny, 70 mins), Ozil, Sanchez. Unused subs: Cech, Gabriel, Lucas Perez, Reine-Adelaide.

Basel: Vaclik, Lang, Suchy, Xhaka, Balanta, Traore, Bjarnason (Delgado, 79 mins), Zuffi (Elyounoussi, 71 mins), Fransson, Doumbia (Sporar, 57 mins), Steffen. Unused subs: Vailati, Gaber, Hoegh, Calla.

Referee: Danny Makkelie (Holland)

Man of the match: Theo Walcott

Match rating: 6/10

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