Theo Walcott has struggled to reach his full potential but the hard graft is slowly paying off for Arsenal forward
Theo Walcott has found it difficult to fulfil his early promise but hopefully at 27 the penny has finally dropped.
Over the summer Walcott must have realised he was neither fit enough nor strong enough and started working with personal trainer Bradley Simmonds. He will have done a lot of work with Theo on building his core strength and that has clearly paid off.
Walcott has scored five goals in eight games this season — as many as he managed in each of the last three campaigns. He could have had five against Swansea alone but I don’t mind that he missed three great chances.
Theo Walcott was disappointing with England but has been in excellent form for Arsenal
Walcott scored twice against Swansea to take his personal tally to seven for the season
The 27-year-old has worked on his strength and fitness during the summer and it is paying off
Walcott worked on his strength and conditioning in the gym during the summer months
His two goals on Saturday were scrappy and ugly and it’s those you need if you want to become a 20-goal man.
Yes, he was disappointing for England but most of our players struggled in the World Cup qualifiers.
He’s in the form of his life for Arsenal and now he’s got to prove he can do it for a whole season.
THREE’S THE MAGIC NUMBER FOR CONTE
I’m not surprised Antonio Conte has started using three at the back with Chelsea. He’s had so much success with the system at Juventus and with Italy and I’m fascinated to see whether he can make it work long term at Stamford Bridge. It certainly paid off against Leicester on Saturday.
Eden Hazard was able to play centrally and he thrived making runs off Diego Costa. Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses were superb as wing backs and N’Golo Kante, against his former club, was immense.
He looked a lot better playing in a more advanced role with Nemanja Matic shielding the defence. Kante is yet to show his best for Chelsea — I still have visions of the referee outrunning him against Arsenal — but he created two chances against Leicester and was unlucky not to score.
Antonio Conte has started using three at the back with Chelsea and the system is working
Belgian forward Eden Hazard has thrived in a more central position just off striker Diego Costa
Nemanja Matic (left) is back screening the defence with N’Golo Kante in a more advanced role
The test will be how well this system works against Manchester United on Sunday. With no European football, Conte will have the whole week to drill his team on the training ground to prepare for Old Trafford.
The system will also suit the pace of Kurt Zouma when the centre back returns from injury. Here’s how I think Chelsea could eventually line up this season:
CHELSEA (3-5-2): Courtois; Zouma, Terry, Cahill/Luiz; Azpilicueta, Matic, Kante, Willian, Alonso; Hazard, Costa
West Ham have missed Aaron Cresswell at full back but he returned at the weekend
The English full back was sent off at Selhurst Park but he gets the best out of Dimitri Payet
AARON’S RETURN SO KEY
How West Ham have missed Aaron Cresswell. The left back adds so much to Slaven Bilic’s side.
Cresswell gets the best out of Dimitri Payet. The French magician is at his best when he has someone working outside him and making runs past him and, as the graphic shows, that’s how the two combined to set up West Ham’s winner at Crystal Palace.
Manuel Lanzini rounded off the move with a fine finish and I now expect the Argentine to go on a run. He has so much ability and can take the pressure off Payet, helping West Ham climb the table.
Cresswell was very unlucky to be sent off and West Ham will miss him against Sunderland on Saturday.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman managed to hold off who he believes is the side to beat
Nolito scored his sixth goal in 11 appearances in the 1-1 draw with Everton on Saturday
KOEMAN’S RIGHT, CITY ARE THE TEAM TO BEAT
Manchester City may have just one more point than they did at the same stage last season under Manuel Pellegrini but it’s clear to see how much they have improved with Pep Guardiola.
As the table below shows, City are enjoying more of the ball, dribbling more and covering more ground in games.
Only some inspired goalkeeping from Maarten Stekelenburg stopped them beating Everton on Saturday and Ronald Koeman admitted City were the best team he has faced in his entire managerial career. City really are the team to beat this season.
Jose Holebas celebrates scoring his goal for Watford as Middlesbrough were beaten again
Middlesbrough struggle for goals but did not introduce Jordan Rhodes until it was too late
TIME FOR BORO TO TURN IT ON
Middlesbrough’s defeat by Watford on Sunday was the most frustrating game I’ve seen in a long time. Playing at home, they set up far too negatively with one up front and, despite trailing 1-0, only bolstered their attack when they brought on Jordan Rhodes with two minutes to go.
What must the fans have thought? I know it’s an amazing achievement to reach the Premier League but you might as well have a go. Look at Bournemouth last year. They tried to score goals and make things happen.
Watching Aitor Karanka’s side, however, was like watching paint dry. Middlesbrough have scored just seven league goals all season — only Burnley and Sunderland with six have scored fewer. Unless they are prepared to take risks, Boro will struggle to beat the drop.
Jordon Ibe showed the first signs he is ready to justify the £15million spent on him last summer
IBE FINALLY LIVES UP TO HIS STAR BILLING
I picked Jordon Ibe as one of my 10 players to watch this season but after seven games I was starting to wish I hadn’t. The Bournemouth winger has struggled since his £15million move from Liverpool.
I felt he was taking far too many touches on the ball just to prove his worth. On Saturday, Hull simply couldn’t handle him down the right and he created three chances — the joint most of any player on the pitch.
Having Jack Wilshere at the club will have helped his development. All the young midfielders will be taking things up a notch in training trying to show him how good they are!
Tottenham were very fortunate to come away from their game at West Brom with a point
The international break couldn’t have come at a worse time for Tottenham. After beating Manchester City so convincingly, they will have wanted to play again as quickly as possible to keep the momentum going.
West Brom are a difficult team to break down but Spurs could have done with the cutting edge supplied by Harry Kane. Dele Alli’s late equaliser will have given Spurs a massive confidence boost, though, as they remain the only unbeaten side in the league.
Joe Allen has looked a different player for club and country since his move from Liverpool
ALLEN ON THE ATTACK
Joe Allen has always been a nice player but he’s proving that there’s much more to his game than we’ve realised. Allen is showing that he’s an intelligent footballer who can strike a ball and it makes you wonder why he’s been content to just sit in front of the back four.
At Swansea and Liverpool, he kept it simple with short passes. Now he is taking risks, getting into the box and scoring goals. He looks a different player — it just shows what you can do when the shackles are off.
Scoring goals is what gets you on the back pages and that’s exactly what Allen is starting to do.
Sadio Mane is the key man if Liverpool are to come away with victory over Manchester United
MONDAY MAN TO WATCH
Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
Mane will be looking to continue his flying start to life at Anfield with an impressive display against Manchester United.
He can be Liverpool’s danger man on Monday night with his devastating runs and United’s defenders will have to be on top of their game to stop him.