Walcott's ready for World Cup call up
August 30, 2008 10:10pm CST
Arsene Wenger claimed today that he could not have wished for a better response from his team as they clinched a place in the lucrative Champions League Group stage for the 11th consecutive season. Bitterly disappointed after the 1-0 Premier League defeat at Fulham, the Arsenal manager demanded a significant improvement against FC Twente last night - and got it. Leading 2-0 from the first leg, Arsenal demolished Steve McClaren's Dutch side at Emirates Stadium, securing an emphatic 4-0 victory - 6-0 on aggregate - and the estimated £25million jackpot that awaits clubs qualifying for Europe's elite competition. McClaren, the former England manager, acknowledged Arsenal's superiority and believes they will be among the favourites challenging for a place in the final in Rome next May. "Why not?" he asked. "It's a long, hard competition but they have the quality for it." The evidence was abundant last night as Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie outwitted Twente's man markers to remind us of what Arsenal can produce when they get their act together. "This was a big game for us and I thought we were well organised, disciplined and focused and never really under threat," said Wenger. "The team was sharper and physically better than on Saturday. I couldn't have asked for a better response. We want to play with the best and to do that we have to be among the best in the Champions League." The defeat at Craven Cottage generated talk of an early-season crisis but McClaren put that in perspective when he said: "Someone said before the match that the defeat at Fulham made this the best time to play Arsenal. In fact, it was the worst time." With the impressive Fabregas back following a hamstring injury to give structure and shape to the midfield, Arsenal were a class above McClaren's team, whose consolation for an early exit in their inaugural Champions League season will be another appearance in the UEFA Cup. While Fabregas was at the heart of everything until he was substituted to protect his hamstring in the 67th minute, little Walcott would have caught the eye of Fabio Capello with the pace and daring of his runs on Arsenal's right flank. He scored one goal and created another but it was his persistence that would have impressed the watching England coach who is about to name his World Cup squad for next month's opening qualifying matches against Andorra in Barcelona and Croatia in Zagreb. "Theo can be a decisive influence in any game," said Wenger. "But I've always said that you have to be patient with him. He has improved his first touch and his link-up play. He has worked a lot on these things to find the right balance between individual and team play. "But the way he took his goal - that is something you cannot teach. It comes naturally." Walcott had penetrated on the right two or three times before his 27th-minute cross created Arsenal's opening goal. As his pass flew across the penalty area, Robin van Persie slid in to set up a chance for Samir Nasri. The £12million Frenchman, faced by a wall of defenders, wringgled past them and found a little space for himself before sending a low, deflected shot beyond the dive of Nicolay Mihaylov. In the 39th minute another run and cross from Walcott gave van Persie the kind of scoring opportunity he rarely wastes. On this occasion, though, with the goalkeeper stranded and time to spare, he shot wide of a post. After the interval, with substitute Emmanuel Eboue replacing Nasri, who was sick at half time, Arsenal were even more compact in midfield giving the Dutch little chance of getting back into the game. In fact, when skipper William Gallas fired home in the 53rd minute the match was all but over as a spectacle though McClaren, to his credit, kept jumping from his dug-out to urge his team forward. But he was a disconsolate figure in the 67th minute when Walcott sprinted onto a pass from Nicklas Bendtner and coolly bent a low shot around Twente's goalkeeper into the far corner of the net. Then, in the dying moments, as the Arsenal fans teased McClaren with chants of "Are you Tottenham in disguise?", substitute Emmanuel Adebayor and young Brazilian Denilson combined well to set up Bendtner for the fourth goal. "We're hurt and disappointed," said McClaren. "It's not how we expect Twente to play." Wenger, on the other hand, was delighted that Arsenal had secured a place as one of the top seeds in this evening's Group Stage draw. He admitted, though, that his forays into the transfer market were proving less successful. He remains hopeful that Arsenal might reinforce their squad before the transfer window closes next week but added: "Transfers take a lot of time - and they don't always happen."