Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott hope they have given manager Arsene Wenger a “selection headache” after the pair produced impressive performances in Arsenal’s comfortable Europa League win over Bate Borisov.
Neither midfielder Wilshere nor forward Walcott have started a Premier League for the Gunners this season, but both found the net as Arsenal rounded off their Group H campaign with a comprehensive victory.
“There is plenty of competition when you play for Arsenal. We are doing our best to give the manager a headache to pick us for the team,” Walcott said.
Wilshere, who scored his first goal since May 2015, added: “All we can do when we get our opportunity is give the manager a headache.”
The Gunners had already secured top spot in the penultimate round of matches and went ahead with an angled finish from defender Mathieu Debuchy.
Walcott added Arsenal’s second with a close-range finish and Wilshere then scored a fine goal after he cut on to his left foot inside the penalty area and arrowed the ball into the net.
Bate defender Denis Polyakov put Walcott’s low cross into his own net after half-time before striker Olivier Giroud converted from the penalty spot following Nemanja Milunovic’s trip on Walcott.
Mohamed Elneny added a sixth with a curling effort after being set up by Wilshere.
In the wake of Arsenal’s 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United, this fixture represented a chance for some of Arsenal’s fringe players to impress.
Manager Arsene Wenger made 11 changes from the side that lost to United in the Premier League, although the starting line-up still boasted plenty of experience.
Bate had a chance of qualifying for the knockout phase of the competition but did not present much of a test for the Gunners who did not have to exert themselves to secure a routine victory.
In truth the margin of victory probably should have been even greater given Arsenal managed 22 shots on goal.
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It was the first time Wilshere had found the net in an Arsenal shirt since the Gunners’ 4-1 home win over West Brom – a gap of 928 days.
Wenger said after Arsenal had beaten Bate 4-2 on 28 September that the 25-year-old was “on his way back to his best”.
Given Wilshere has only managed four appearances in the Premier League from the bench since then the Frenchman’s words might have proved a little premature.
Wilshere, who received a ticking off from Wenger for going ice-skating with his family this week, certainly played some eye-catching passes and clever touches.
But given the strength of the team from Belarus – Wilshere had the freedom of the Emirates at times – it may be best to reserve judgement.
Walcott’s performance was also bright and in addition to his goal saw a close-range effort saved, curled a free-kick past and had a shot cleared off the line.
However, Welbeck looked short of match fitness and struggled to make much of an impact.
Europa League chance should not be sniffed at
This was the lowest crowd at the Emirates since Arsenal moved to the stadium from Highbury with fewer than 30,000 in attendance.
It was considerably fewer than the 44,064 that turned for Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Doncaster in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup in September.
The Europa League, it would appear, has not quite captured the imagination of the Arsenal fans compared to the Champions League.
It should be noted the Gunners managed just one final appearance – in 2006 when they lost to Barcelona – in 20 consecutive years of playing in the European Cup.
Perhaps the less illustrious sibling of the Champions League offers a realistic chance of some continental success for Wenger and can help spark a revival of their European fortunes.
Manchester United fans, players and manager Jose Mourinho embraced the competition, en route to victory last season.
The Portuguese in particular realised the importance of putting medals in the pockets of his players. Arsenal could do worse than follow that lead.
It has, after all, been 23 years since the Gunners last won a trophy in Europe – the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Man of the match – Jack Wilshere
Debuchy ends 1082-day wait – the stats
- Arsenal scored six or more goals in a European game within Uefa competition for only the sixth time in their history.
- The Gunners ended their group stage with 13 points from six games (W4 D1 L1) – the only English team to have won more in a Europa League group stage were Tottenham (18) in 2013-14.
- Mathieu Debuchy scored a competitive goal for Arsenal for the first time since 21 December 2014; 1082 days ago.
- All three of Theo Walcott’s Europa League goals for Arsenal this season have come in his two appearances against Bate Borisov.
After this morale-boosting win, Arsenal will look to return to winning ways in the Premier League following last weekend’s 3-1 home defeat to Manchester United with a tricky away trip to Southampton in Sunday’s early kick-off (12:00 GMT).