LONDON, England, February 27 – Arsene Wenger praised Theo Walcott’s two-goal contribution to Arsenal’s 5-2 derby win over Tottenham, but admitted he considered substituting the winger to spare him more abuse from his own supporters.
Walcott came in for heavy criticism from the Arsenal fans at the Emirates Stadium as Spurs raced to an early two-goal lead.
But after the home side drew level, Tomas Rosicky and Walcott completed a comfortable win.
Wenger confessed he thought about making a change when it became apparent Walcott was shouldering the blame for a disappointing start but believes the player’s performance demonstrated his value to the team.
“The crowd was starting to get on his back, and you wonder if you do him a favour if you leave him on,” said Walcott.
“But I felt that he is a player who can be straight, go behind the defenders, and nobody else is like that.
“He is a very direct player, and you know that sometimes he can miss a first touch and still considering the balance of our team I felt it was important to keep him in the side.”
Walcott admitted he had endured a difficult first 45 minutes but was satisfied with his response.
“You always have to get on with the game. When things are not going too well, I can hold my hands up and say I didn’t have the greatest of first halves,” he said.
“But it just shows the character, not just me but the team. I was trying to forget about that and work hard in the second half and if you work hard hopefully good things will come and it happened for me, hopefully it will happen to everyone else now.”
In a reversal of roles, Robin van Persie, the scorer of Arsenal’s second goal, set up Walcott for the team’s third.
And the Holland forward said: “If you speak about Theo, I think it’s funny he gets so many critics. He gave me loads of assists and I know and everyone knows he can score.
“He showed that in this game, he scored two goals and will score more. I said a couple of weeks ago he will score 20 goals and he will, trust me.”
And Wenger believes the race for third place is back on after Arsenal reduced the gap on Tottenham to seven points.
“It is still possible, if we keep our run going. Why not? But before the game it was ‘impossible’,” said Wenger.
“I always thought it was possible, but it would be down to consistency. Everybody on in the Premier League can lose points. They have a different schedule to us, but if we continue to play like that, then why not?”
Wenger revealed Belgium defender Thomas Vermaelen and Czech Republic forward Rosicky picked up knocks and would miss this week’s internationals.
Spurs manager Harry Redknapp admitted he had been surprised at the way his side collapsed and demanded an immediate response.
“We seemed to buckle after they scored, which isn’t like us. We don’t do that often. But they’ve got good players. They’re a good side but when you’re 2-0 up, you expect to win the game,” he said.
“It’s going to be tight, but we’re in a great position. We’re still seven points clear of Arsenal and Chelsea. If we can finish third, that’s a great season for us.”
And he added: “We’ve got to come back like we did earlier in the season. We need to bounce back and recover.
“But everyone’s going to various parts of the world to play internationals, There’s hardly anyone in all week. It’s a crazy build-up to massive games. It’s difficult, the schedule. We’ve got people going to Mexico. One to New Zealand.”