Arsene Wenger has praised Theo Walcott for delivering his best performance as a number 9 for Arsenal during the 3-0 victory over Manchester United on Sunday (4 October), despite failing to find the back of the net. The French boss also hailed the contributions of Hector Bellerin, predicting the Spanish right-back will have a great great future at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners arrived for the match under major scrutiny, following an embarrassing Champions League loss to Greek outfit Olympiacos. But they rebounded in sensational form, with an impressive start to the game that saw them three up within twenty minutes. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil scored within 33 seconds of each other, before the Chile international netted the third.
Walcott failed to add to his account in the 2015/16 Premier League, but was a key part of both the second and third goals. Wenger, who handed him a start in attack ahead of Olivier Giroud, put the performance on the same level as the one in the FA Cup victory over Tottenham in January 2014, before falling to a knee problem.
"In this position, certainly [it has been his best performance]. The day he was injured here he had a great game against Tottenham and I would put that up there," Wenger said in the press conference after the game.
"I must say Walcott had a hugely committed performance today in a hugely convincing way. He didn't score but I like to praise the strikers when they don't score and contribute and give assists. He was involved in two goals – Ozil's and Alexis' [second] one. He did really fight today and showed he can fight, commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining some aspects of his game as a centre forward and they are improving.
"I was always [convinced about his potential to play as a number nine]. You were not convinced. When a guy plays well it is always easy to find people who were convinced."
Meanwhile, Wenger also lavished praise on academy star Bellerin for his maturity in responding to the Champions League disappointment with an excelling performance against United.
"He has improved defensively and I think his defensive performance was average against Olympiacos, like most of our players. On that front we responded very well and he was part of that," Wenger said. "He is very good in transition from defence to attack but even in the air he was good today and he won some surprising headers. He is 20 years old and when you look at what he is doing already I think he has a great future."