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Oct 14, 2006

Boy Wonder, take a bow

ARSENAL 3-0 WATFORD

In the week when the English nation belatedly accepted the reality that their national team were not as good as they wanted to believe, Arsene Wenger decided to play his part in soothing the nation's wounds.

Some of us old hacks battling against the vagaries of the crumbling London transport network in a bid to make our 3pm appointment may have lacked a little enthusiasm for a game that threatened to be one of the biggest mismatches in Premiership history, yet the team sheet that greeted us on our arrival at the Emirates Stadium got the juices flowing.

After months of waiting, wondering and heated debate surrounding a young man whose superstar status has been built primarily on hearsay, he were finally about to be given the chance to witness Theo Walcott in all his glory.

His sensational two goal show for the England under-21 side in Germany on Tuesday night whetted the appetite and the most talked about teenager in the game was rewarded with the start he craved. The buzz around this sparkling new stadium as his name was read out said much about the anticipation felt by all present.

Walcott may have impressed everyone who has been fortunate enough to watch his fleeting moments in the spotlight to date, but until the 'boy-wonder' is unleashed from his captivity on the bench, we will not know whether he has what it takes to become the sporting icon marketing men already project him to be.

Wenger clearly viewed a game against Watford as the ideal setting to unleash his little master and while he only ended up playing 65 minutes of this game, we saw enough to suggest the future will be bright so long as this young man's talents are harnessed in the right manner.

Displaying a majestic first touch and great awareness for one so young, Walcott is much more than just a livewire sprinter and Wenger was delighted his with opening effort as a Premiership starter.

'He can make the difference for us in big games and that's why I was keen to give him a start,' stated Wenger. 'He is much more than just a quick player because his finishing can be so impressive and we have to look after him.

'I know everyone wants to see him starting in every game, but don't forget that he is only 17 and I will do my best to guide his career in the right way. We know how good he can be and now we have to allow him to develop at his own pace.

'This was a glimpse of what is possible from the boy. He is at his best in the centre of the park attacking defences, but he can also be a threat down the flank. I'm pleased this big test went so well for Theo.'

While Arsenal took 32 minutes to find a way through the dogged Watford defensive wall, there was rarely any doubt how this game would end and after Kolo Toure's fortunate opener gave Arsenal a lead, Thierry Henry showed that anything the young apprentice can do is nothing compared to what the master is capable of.

Without clicking into his most devastating gears, Henry ended the Watford challenge with a coolly taken goal on the stroke of half time and a burst that gave Emmanuel Adebayor a tap-in mid-way through the second half, yet Watford could take some credit for their display.

Always a threat when they broke forward, Marlon King twice went close to scoring before Arsenal broke the deadlock and if Tommy Smith had his shooting boots on, the visitor's gutsy effort would have been rewarded with a goal nine minutes before the break.

However, as is the case with so many sides promoted to the Premiership, a lack of quality in the final third proved to be the flaw they couldn't cover up and Watford and manager Aidy Boothroyd accepted as much.

'We had a lot of good build up play in this game, but didn't have that quality to make the most of our chances,' he reflected. 'I personally don't see this as a problem with the players I have here as from my perspective, we will score goals if we continue to create the sort of chances we have been making of late.

'What pleased me today is that we carried on battling long after the game was lost. A lot of teams will go 3-0 down here and crumble, but my lads battled on and created plenty of chances in the last 20 minutes. That showed a lot of character. No one can accuse us of lacking character and as long as we retain that quality, we will have a chance.'

Whether King, Smith and the like will score the number of goals that will be required to keep Watford in the Premiership remains to be seen, but you have to admire the way Watford have approached their first few weeks as a Premiership club.

Boothroyd comes across as an impressive young manager who is relishing his speedy promotion to the big time. The Watford manager must have to pinch himself as he sits in an auditorium fit for a Champions League Final, but he has earned the right to be here and is determined to do things his way.

'My team are greater than the individuals in there and that is why we have done so well in the last 12 months,' he added 'I will not change my methods or my philosophies just because some people think I should. I'm not weak enough to allow others to influence me and firmly believe that if I stick to my principles, I will be coming back to this stadium next season - as long as Arsenal stay up that is.'

Adding humour to his professionalism, Aidy Boothroyd is a breath of fresh air to a league dominated by the big buck and a glut of over-inflated egos, but fresh air has never kept a side in the top flight.

In the end, players like Thierry Henry and Theo Walcott will ensure that Boothroyd's welcome impact will be all-too brief.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ben Foster
Suggestions that England lack goalkeepers of true class can be dismissed as Foster again showed signs that he can be a national team No.1 in years to come.

FOOD WATCH: A very tasty beef Thai curry went down well as a pre-match helping and the expensive ice-cream tubs on offer was also a bonus. However, there were some complaints from the pres pack about a dodgy meat pie handed out at half-time.

OH NO KOLO: Arsenal defender Toure provided the sell-out crowd with a moment of stunning stupidity as he opted to shoot at goal when presented with a free-kick fully 40 yards from goal. Wenger's bemused reaction on the bench said it all.

WALCOTT VERDICT: This was a very promising opening from the boy who has such a billing to live up to. Wenger will do all he can to protect this jewel in England's crown.

WATFORD VERDICT: Harsh though this assessment is after a spirited display against Arsenal, it's hard to see how Boothroyd's men will collect the 40 points required to stay in the Premiership. They may be a threat from their well-worked set-plays and even if they are en-route back to the Championship division, the Hornets will ruffle a few feathers en-route.

  • Email newsdesk@soccernet.com with your thoughts.