Theo Walcott deserves more credit for being a key player for Arsenal
Now that Cesc Fábregas is no more, there is a spot vacant for the player who personifies Arsenal the most. Robin van Persie might be it because of the goals he has scored and also being the incumbent of the captain’s armband. But more suited might be Jack Wilshere who, is not only homegrown, but has a glide and spontaneity on the ball that is supposed to represent the new Arsenal. However, it might be Theo Walcott who defines Arsenal most at the moment. A “product” of Project Youth, on his day he can be scintillating but he is clearly a player who thrives on confidence. The 7-1 win over Blackburn Rovers brought Arsenal and also, Theo Walcott, back to form but as Miguel Delaney writes for Eircom, it tells us little about Arsenal. “But then that’s the point,” he says. “On the day, Arsene Wenger’s side completely exploited one of the most porous and mentally fragile backlines in the league, with that circumstance only going so far as to perpetuate Arsenal’s own confidence.”
One must hope the win results in an upsurge of form because Blackburn was the kind of beleaguered opponents that Arsenal thrive upon and should dismantle given their style. And that they did that can only be positive for their confidence. Walcott made three assists – as good as three goals says van Persie – and he’s certainly buzzing. Perhaps the assists are better for his confidence than goals because it reasserts what he is doing is correct. “The goals are a secondary thing,” he said after the win. Indeed, earlier in the season, he seemed to play with an agenda; in an attempt to demonstrate to Arsene Wenger he can play as a central striker. He has since found that more difficult to prove as chances are harder to come by on the flanks. It might happen only once a match which means Walcott must be alert to it, otherwise the tight defences make it nigh on impossible at times, to get behind. “When I was younger, my team-mates would kick it behind the defense and I’d run onto it and score,” he told Arsenal Magazine last year. “It’s not that easy anymore.”
Nevertheless, Walcott’s movement is usually excellent and it’s a key feature for Arsenal in breaking down tough, defensive sides. By hugging the touchline, he’s opening space for Arsenal’s passers to work it before darting in off the flanks to get onto the end of it. If it doesn’t pay off, he picks himself up and tries it again. Indeed, if anything, it’s a good tactic to stop him being marked out of games. “If you are on the flanks, you have to make the runs anyway. You can’t stay quiet on the wings and Arsenal are not the sort of team who will cross it anyway. We try and walk it into the net,” says Walcott.
Walcott’s influence has grown with Arsenal’s new system. He’s playing a duel role on the right of the front three – either looking to play somebody in with his movement (his style is rarely focused on dribbling and more on the timing of runs) – or get on the end of it himself. Wenger has stated he is working Walcott more defensively because he’s also acting as a buoy in the system – a balancer in Arsenal’s forward mechanisms. With Gervinho or Andrey Arshavin on the other side, his tracking back allows them to stay up the pitch and play with freedom. Now, the breakthrough of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – the player some harshly argue Walcott should have been – seems to have increased his competition but it might liberate him. Oxlade-Chamberlain is more of a natural winger thus it should decrease some of expectations that have been bestowed upon Walcott in that role. Indeed, while Walcott seemed to revel in Francis Coquelin’s overlaps against Blackburn, the stretching of play on the other side gave Walcott more room to make his runs. He had a couple of opportunities against Manchester United following Oxlade-Chamberlain’s good work too. “It is very very difficult to affect the game against a side like Arsenal, they keep possession really well, they kept their wide players wide all game and that made it difficult for us,” said Blackburn manager Steve Kean after the defeat.
Wenger has indicated it’s a possibility we might see Walcott play up front; if Arsenal keep the ball well, it might just be a viable option. There’s no doubt he has much to improve and he must understand movement and speed is not enough. Wenger has used Walcott has a counter-attacking capacity from corner-kicks (coincidentally, they’ve scored the most goals from fast breaks this season, 6) and any success in that medium might fast track him into a striker.
It’s Walcott’s ability to allow Arsenal break away from the endless triangular patterns which they create which makes him such a crucial factor in the side’s and therefore, it’s about time he’s got the recognition he deserves. Selected for the World Cup 2006 manifested a false idea of what Walcott should be as a player and as such, he’s found it hard to develop into the player he promises to be. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s breakthrough might just afford him the time away from the spotlight he deserves. And maybe recognition might come then.
Filed under: Players
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