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Walcott pulls the trigger as Gunners light up the night

LONDON: Arsene Wenger cannot pass a microphone without being asked if he needs a new centre-forward. After this pell-mell display he has his answer.

On a cavalier evening, Arsenal scored seven times, Theo Walcott producing a brilliant hat-trick, substitute Olivier Giroud netting twice, with Demba Ba, a touted replacement for both, answering on two occasions for Newcastle.

Arsenal fans will have been delighted by Walcott's performance, and will surely hope he can finally come to an agreement on a new deal to end protracted talks over his future.

The visitors might have been derided as ''a wee club from the north-east'' by Alex Ferguson, but they do know how to entertain. At Old Trafford they led three times before finally losing. Here Newcastle came from behind three times, before succumbing in a second half that featured eight goals as both defences suffered breakdowns.

With a week's rest after their Boxing Day fixture against West Ham fell victim to a tube strike, Arsenal should have been the sharper side but they were far from box-fresh in their first post-Christmas outing, and Ba should have put the visitors ahead. He rose unmarked to head over from a Sylvain Marveaux corner when he should have at least drawn a save from Wojciech Szczesny.

It was a costly miss, as Walcott countered to put Arsenal ahead. Newcastle were undone by a single pass, Lukas Podolski's ball into the inside-left channel freeing Walcott.


The finish was reminiscent of his predecessor in the No.14 shirt, Thierry Henry, who watched from the stands as Walcott cut in on goal and rolled the ball across Tim Krul into the corner. Clearly, those striking tips that the master marksman Henry shared with his apprentice Walcott at London Colney during the week paid off.

With five minutes remaining in the half, Ba produced the equaliser, albeit with considerable help from Jack Wilshere. After Gabriel Obertan was fouled by Bacary Sagna 18 metres from the Arsenal goal, Ba struck a free kick that took a huge deflection off the back of Wilshere's head as he turned away from the ball. Szczesny was wrong-footed by the touch and was a spectator as the ball rolled in.

Whatever was said in the dressing rooms at half-time, neither defence was listening. Within five minutes of the restart, Arsenal were back ahead, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finishing powerfully after being fed by Santi Cazorla.

Back came Newcastle again, Marveaux left with the freedom of Holloway by Kieran Gibbs to tap in after an Obertan step-over had taken him past Sagna to the byline.

Arsenal were ahead again within five minutes, Podolski nodding home from close range after Wilshere's cross had been headed against his own bar by Fabricio Coloccini. Ba's second equaliser again owed a little to Gibbs, who was watching the ball rather than his man as the striker ran on to Marveaux's cross to slide home.

Walcott put his side ahead for the fourth time four minutes later, finishing smartly from 10 metres. He created Arsenal's fifth, crossing for substitute Giroud to head in. Giroud had a second, Arsenal's sixth, as he shot from a narrow angle, before Walcott completed his hat-trick with a mazy run and a chip over Krul.

''I've been saying for the past few weeks that I want to play up front, and I am showing the manager what I can do,'' said Walcott, who is off contract at the end of the season.

Wenger was paying attention: ''He has done very well, it typifies what I think he can do.''

Telegraph, London; AFP