Premier Picks: Walcott still inconsistent

30 December 2012 08:00
Theo Walcott's inconsistency, Manchester City's problems in victory and the end of an era for Chelsea feature in our look at the latest action. Arsenal 7 Newcastle United 3 There was plenty that Theo Walcott did not get right on Saturday evening. All the problems of old were in evidence as he made poor decisions when well placed and spurned several opportunities that could have won Arsenal the game long before they ran out 7-3 winners. But amid the frustrations there was the small matter of three goals for the 23-year-old. Theo Walcott, hat-trick hero. His first goal showed what a mature finisher he has become, the second provided encouragement he can score the scrappy goals and the third was sheer class. And yet, Walcott can discuss terms with foreign clubs next week. It is baffling Arsenal have allowed this situation to develop. The England forward may not be perfect but he showed here what an asset he can be. Are the Gunners really in a position not to give the man everything he wants? Adam Bate Norwich City 3 Manchester City 4 Manchester City assistant boss David Platt had expressed his concern about a collective goal drought among his strikers in the build-up to this game so he will have been delighted to see Edin Dzeko return to form in fine style. The Bosnia international was a surprise starter ahead of Carlos Tevez but his selection proved a masterstroke as he fired City two goals ahead inside four minutes. What Platt and manager Roberto Mancini will not be happy with, though, is a lack of discipline shown by Samir Nasri, who needlessly clashed with Sebastien Bassong following a late challenge by the Norwich man and got himself sent off. Mancini will also be concerned at some of his side's defending as slack marking from set-pieces allowed Norwich back into the game but the battling spirit shown to hold onto the win should send the Italian into 2013 with a smile on his face. Norwich boss Chris Hughton will also be delighted with the spirit shown by his side as they recovered from a nightmare start to give the champions a real fright. However, he will want his side to show greater concentration as slow starts to either half saw them concede early goals and ultimately condemned them to a third successive defeat. Tom Mallows Aston Villa 0 Wigan Athletic 3 Three-nil down and heading for a third consecutive defeat, Paul Lambert chose to abandon the 3-5-2 system he has deployed his young side in for most of this season and moved to a 4-4-2. Instantly, they looked more comfortable at the back and the extra width provided by dedicated wingers enabled them to retain the ball in the final third more effectively and put pressure on Wigan with numerous crosses into the box. The question now is whether Lambert will stick with 4-4-2 away at Swansea City on New Year's Day or revert back to the 3-5-2 that has seen them ship 15 goals in three games. There is nothing wrong with three at the back, as Wigan ably proved in a solid display at Villa Park but Villa's young defenders seem uncomfortable operating as trio and show no sign of developing their cohesion. For Wigan, victory gave them plenty to celebrate after a run of six matches without a win, not least the clinical manner in which they took their goals. However, manager Roberto Martinez will know his team should have been more than 1-0 ahead after 30 minutes against a Villa side that was there for the taking. He will also be perplexed by the way his players dropped their tempo and allowed the hosts back into the game shortly after the half-hour mark, but on the whole, the defensive solidarity and fluid attacking play that they exhibited for most of the game should give them reason for optimism ahead of the visit of Manchester United on Tuesday. Matthew Westby Manchester United 2 West Bromwich Albion 0 We feared the unthinkable before kick-off, with the Manchester weather threatening to postpone the fixture, but after passing two pitch inspections it was United who continued their march to retaining their Premier League crown. The return of Shinji Kagawa is a welcome boost for the Red Devils. His creative flair shone in the damp conditions and with games coming think and fast, the rest Kagawa's return granted to Robin van Persie could also prove vital. The flying Dutchman just cannot stop scoring and his added threat when United were under the cosh in the latter stages of the match showed just how important he will be to the Red Devils' campaign. Sir Alex Ferguson will be pleased with the clean sheet, their first in six Premier League outings, despite having to withstand a great deal of second-half pressure from West Brom. After back-to-back wins coming into the United encounter, Baggies boss Steve Clarke will not be too worried to leave Old Trafford with nothing, after giving a good account of themselves. However, the rookie manager will be disappointed that his side did not make their possession count in the second period, and looked slightly disjoined without the injured Jonas Olsson, Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu, who have been instrumental to their impressive start to the season. The introduction of Romelu Lukaku gave West Brom added impetus in the final third and his display will give his manager a selection headache for their New Year's Day clash with Fulham, with the giant Belgian, Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie all vying for a starting-berth. Pete Hall Reading 1 West Ham United 0 West Ham boss Sam Allardyce will be frustrated Reading did not even have to play at their best to gain their second victory of the season. His side lacked invention and creativity, and too often looked long for an isolated Carlton Cole. Reading were effective and Pavel Pogrebnyak should gain the plaudits for his display of strength and early finish. Whilst there is no room for panic at West Ham, Allardyce will be concerned they have won just one of their last eight games and, even after a break of a week, look jaded and blunt. For Reading, it was a victory at a time when one was becoming almost critically overdue. But you feel they will still have to improve markedly if they are to stay up. Daniel Storey Stoke City 3 Southampton 3 On paper, not the most appealing of games but in the end it had everything. Credit must go to Nigel Adkins' Southampton for the way in which his side approached the game, particularly in the first half. Jason Puncheon, Jay Rodriguez, Guly and Rickie Lambert caused all sorts of problems for Tony Pulis' Stoke back four, who clearly missed the suspended Ryan Shawcross. Lambert not only scored one but had a hand in Southampton's other two goals, taking full advantage of the rusty Mathew Upson, who was making his first start since May. If Adkins side deserved praise in the first half, then Pulis' men warranted it in the second. Especially when Steven N'Zonzi was shown a red card for a late challenge on Cork. Pulis was not prepared to let that stop him from preserving Stoke's exceptional home record. As the home side went in search of an unlikely point, Pulis threw on four strikers in Cameron Jerome, Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters, who at times did the work of two men. In the end, it was Jerome's wonder goal in the dying moments which saved 10-man Stoke and stretched their unbeaten run of games at the Britannia Stadium to 16. Southampton, on the other hand, will be happy with a draw even though they were moments away from only their second away win of the season. Tom McDermott Fulham 1 Swansea City 2 Fulham's problems seem to be in midfield, where there is little service for striker Dimitar Berbatov. Martin Jol has ditched the tactic of playing defender Chris Baird out of position in a holding midfield role but it has not improved the situation. Hugo Rodallega added some impetus as a substitute strike partner for Berbatov in the second half but, before then, Fulham had been reliant on fit-again Bryan Ruiz pulling the strings. The playmaker showed flashes of brilliance but his set-pieces were inconsistent. Expect Fulham to sign another striker in January if they are to address their worrying slide down the table. It is now one win in 12 Premier League matches for Fulham - relegation form. Michael Laudrup made seven changes to his Swansea line-up but it made little difference to a largely slick performance. It was only the Welsh club's first win in five league games but there was no sign of any wobbling confidence. The returns of Angel Rangel and Pablo Hernandez bode well ahead of a demanding fixture list for Capital One Cup semi-finalists Swansea. Peter Fraser Sunderland 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2 With six wins from their last eight league games, Tottenham's early struggles have largely been forgotten about as Andre Villas-Boas' side lie firmly in the race for the top four heading into 2013. Sunderland posed a much greater threat than Aston Villa did on Boxing Day, and Tottenham's composure, resiliency and attacking threat will have delighted Villas-Boas, who appears to finally have his side playing in the style he wishes. In Gareth Bale, Spurs possess one of the world's best players, but there were notable performances from Sandro, Kyle Naughton and Aaron Lennon against the Black Cats, with the latter applying a wonderfully calm finish for Tottenham's second goal. Keeping Bale will be Tottenham's biggest priority in January, while only players of real quality such as Joao Moutinho, who they nearly signed last summer, will be worthwhile additions to a squad brimming with talent. Sunderland will look to spend in January in order to secure a mid-table finish, while for Spurs, the future looks extremely bright as the battle for third place has suddenly become a lot more interesting. Jack Woodfield Everton 1 Chelsea 2 For long period of Sunday's 2-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park, Frank Lampard was a peripheral figure. Everton swarmed all over Chelsea and the midfielder looked every one of his 34 years as he struggled to find time and space to influence the game. But as has been his habit over the years, the England international had the best answer of them all - putting the ball in the back of the opposition net. First there was a deft header just before the break and then he was perfectly placed to rifle home the second-half winner for his side. Chelsea may wish to move in another direction in the summer - hence the delays over a new contract for their talisman - but there can surely be no doubting the fact any team would miss a player of Lampard's quality. Adam Bate Queens Park Rangers 0 Liverpool 3 This was a game done as a contest within 28 minutes as the visitors ruthlessly exposed the defensive frailties of QPR. Luis Suarez showed once again he can be unplayable when not involved in histrionics and his two early strikes put Liverpool out of sight as he turned the QPR defence inside out. Of the hosts, Jamie Mackie ran hard up front but had little in the way support while Nedum Onuoha tried his best to stem the tide at the back. Liverpool strolled through the second period and did not try particularly hard to add to their tally and though QPR did improve to an extent, they look light years away from a side who will save themselves from the drop. David John

Source: team_talk