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Arsenal 2-0 Basel: Theo Walcott thriving alongside Alexis Sanchez

Arsenal's Theo Walcott celebrates with Alexis Sanchez after scoring his second during the Champions League game against FC Basel at the Emirates Stadium.

It's Alexis Sanchez's role as a striker that's helping to get the best from Theo Walcott on the wing, writes Adam Bate from the Emirates Stadium…

Theo Walcott underlined his fine form for Arsenal this season by scoring twice in Arsenal's 2-0 win over Basel in their first Champions League home game of the season at the Emirates Stadium. Both player and team thoroughly deserved their goals.

Walcott fires as Arsenal thrill
Walcott fires as Arsenal thrill

Theo Walcott scored twice as Arsenal beat Basel 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium.

Walcott finds himself back on the wing for the Gunners this season, but he's already helped himself to five goals and is hinting at hitting the best form of his career. While Walcott deserves much of the credit, that's in part down to the identity of Arsenal's striker.

With Olivier Giroud injured, Alexis Sanchez is adapting to a new role. His interpretation of it is working well for an Arsenal side currently on a run of six wins and a draw from seven games. It's helping them look more fluent as a result of the increased movement in attack.

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Sanchez's touch map against Basel shows that only 28 per cent of his activity comes in the central third of the pitch. That compares to 43 per cent of Giroud's touches in the Champions League last season. Sanchez's movement is leaving space for others to occupy.

Wenger hails 'quality' first half
Wenger hails 'quality' first half

Arsene Wenger hailed Arsenal's "top quality" first-half performance in their 2-0 win

The opening goal was a perfect example as Walcott headed in from point-blank range. The assist came courtesy of Sanchez whose run down the left channel was followed by a good cross with his weaker left foot, standing the ball up for his team-mate to nod in.

Arsenal's Theo Walcott scores his side's first goal of the game during the UEFA Champions League, Group A match v Basel at the Emirates Stadium
Image: Walcott headed in the first goal of the night at the Emirates Stadium

It wasn't just the channel runs either. While Giroud has long been criticised for his limitations, he's also been regularly praised for his hold-up play and is regarded as an important pivot for Arsenal's attacks. He's a player midfielders can bounce their passes off.

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But Sanchez is now showing he can do that and lots more. In fact, he's already created more chances for his colleagues in two Champions League matches this season than Giroud did in Arsenal's entire European campaign last year.

In the Premier League, he's creating a chance every 47 minutes compared to the Frenchman's average of one every 67 minutes last year. And despite a wasteful night in front of goal against Basel, he's scoring more regularly too. Arsene Wenger is a happy man.

Arsenal striker comparison

Chances created / 90 Premier League Champions League
Olivier Giroud - 2015/16 1.3 1.2
Alexis Sanchez - 2016/17 1.9 3.0

"He has the ingredients to do very well there and he's getting stronger in every single game," said the Arsenal boss afterwards. The second goal was another good example of that as Sanchez was there to play a perfectly executed one-two for Walcott to finish.

It was a brilliant strike, displaying the sort of ruthlessness supporters would like to see more often. In truth, Walcott has always been a cool finisher when confident and the signs are that his focus is now spot on. The player himself has identified a shift in outlook as the key.

"Me and the manager sat down and I've just looked at myself," said Walcott. "I want it more than anyone else, but that's just me and the way that I work now. It's a shame it only hit me a few years ago because there's been a slight change in my attitude ahead of big games."

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Arsenal winger Walcott explains how he's had a change of attitude to his game

Wenger is keen to give the credit to Walcott. "Look, it's not the chat that makes you score goals," he said on Wednesday. "He assessed well where he stands and rectified well what he has to add to his game. That's down to him, 95 per cent down to him."

However, the other five per cent - and it's tempting to think it's actually far greater than that - is surely down to the team set-up. Wenger spoke of the side's "interesting potential" afterwards and that's largely as a result of the chemistry they're showing together.

It's all so familiar for Wenger talk of his side knowing "exactly how we want to play football" with emphasis on "power and pace" but his praise of the "quality of movement" did feel more valid than ever. The fluidity of the forward line is a real feature of Arsenal's play.

Theo Walcott
Image: Walcott has overtaken Olivier Giroud on the list of Emirates Stadium scorers

Alex Iwobi loves to cut inside and that dovetails nicely with Mesut Ozil's fondness for drifting to the flank. Indeed, Iwobi looks precisely the sort of player who readily complements others. Wenger even used his programme notes to credit the youngster on that score.

"He's a player who connects the team," explained Wenger. "That's why I think he's integrated so quickly - because our game is based on those combinations. He works for the team, and when it comes to distributing the ball, he does that very intelligently."

Walcott is more inclined to provide the genuine width but with Hector Bellerin bombing down the flank behind him that's frequently offered by the full-back instead. Against Basel, Walcott played more like an inside right with Bellerin as the out-and-out winger.

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That facilitates more of those switches with Sanchez, ensuring that there's always a freshness to their work. The pair certainly proved elusive to the Basel defence, finishing a wonderful first half by occupying each other's positions.

Their link-up play was impressive with Sanchez so often looking for that out-to-in run from Walcott. Only an offside flag denied them after 57 minutes and Walcott almost repaid the favour 10 minutes later only for Sanchez to scuff the ball wide from the cut-back.

Such interactions can never have quite the same fluidity with a more traditional striker such as Giroud and the more regimented roles might partially explain why Walcott scored only once in eight Premier League starts alongside him last season.

Theo Walcott of Arsenal scores his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A match against Basel
Image: Walcott's low drive into the far corner doubled Arsenal's lead over Basel

In contrast, Walcott has now scored five goals in seven appearances in all competitions this term, including goals in back-to-back Premier League games for the first time in well over three years and now a first Champions League brace in nine years.

That's down to hard work and good play. But it's also a consequence of Wenger's decision to deploy Sanchez as his striker. A move that's already having the unexpected bonus of bringing out the very best in Theo Walcott.

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