The Aspiring Central Striker: Starring Theo Walcott
It’s a good time to be an Arsenal fan as both results and performances have been commendable so far this season. The games are coming thick and fast too, which is always desirable when you’re on a good run of form. It also keeps the team focused on what happens on the pitch rather than the goings-on off it.
One of those off-pitch matters is the Theo Walcott contract saga. Arsene Wenger has taken an unusually tough stance in the stand-off, hinting that Walcott might not see much football unless he signs an extension soon. Now, Theo has spoken of his desire to remain at the club.
I’m not the sort of person that goes after the money. It is all about the football, I have always made decisions about the football.
It is a case of having trust in me up front. I was signed as a striker and it is about time, I want to play up front. I have learnt my game on the wing. When you look at what I did last year I think I can do even more. Hopefully I will be given the opportunity. I am desperate for it.
After the money-chasing antics of Nasri and Van Persie, I am reluctant to take seriously any footballer’s view that money is not one of their top priorities. And without painting all footballers with the same brush as those two, it’s hard to believe a contract negotiation can take six months or more to conclude if it’s not related to financial terms.
That aside, Theo’s comments on his desire to play as a central striker are very interesting. They suggest the youngster has always seen himself playing through the middle for Arsenal. But with the Gunners employing a lone striker up front in recent seasons, Theo’s chances of starting games as the main man were always remote.
Like Gervinho, Walcott’s decision-making and final ball have been criticized heavily. In the past, Theo has been labelled a footballer without a brain and as an athlete who wears football boots. In my opinion, both comments are over the top but they do point to the fact that besides the threat of pace, Walcott has struggled to add another dimension to his game.
But with Arsenal short of recognised central strikers this season, this is Theo’s best chance to stake a claim for a starting role up front. I can understand his present frustration when the manager has seemingly handed that chance to Gervinho. It’s a case of which came first – Walcott’s resistance to sign a new contract forcing Wenger to seek other solutions or Arsene’s reluctance to play Walcott as a central striker forcing Theo’s stand-off.
Or simply that Arsene Wenger believes Walcott isn’t good enough to lead the line at Arsenal. And for good reasons. Walcott neither has the physique nor the hold-play essential in today’s centre-forwards. And unlike Gervinho, Theo’s movement off the ball isn’t good enough to engender belief in his ability to pull defenders away and create space for teammates.
At best, Walcott might play as a second striker off the shoulder of Olivier Giroud. With his pace and instinctive finishing in the area, the 23-year old could benefit from knock-downs and make Arsenal’s counter-attacking threat even more potent. But with Cazorla doing such a fabulous job in that role at the moment, it’s difficult to make a case for Walcott to start in that role ahead of the Spaniard.
The other major issue with Walcott is his defensive contribution and work-rate. All too often last season, Arsenal were caught out down the right-hand side as Theo Walcott’s inability to track back allowed the opposition a run at the right-back. When you look at how disciplined, organised and hardworking Arsenal have been on the flanks this season, it’s hard to justify Theo’s inclusion into the team purely on the threat of his pace.
As much as I hate to admit it, perhaps it’s time for Walcott and Arsenal to part ways. At another club that plays a 4-4-2 system relying on a tall centre-forward and a pacy second striker combining, Walcott might still find success in his preferred role. Not many top teams play that system though so while he aspires for that role at Arsenal, his chances of securing a similar position at a top four club are slim. And unlike Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie before him, Theo Walcott hasn’t shown enough quality to warrant Arsenal, or any other club, building a team around the Englishman’s strength.
Then again, never say never. There’s a likelihood Theo will play centrally against Coventry City tomorrow night and while his output against League One opposition might not be a true indication of his potential as a centre-forward, it may provide a clue to the Arsenal future of one aspiring central striker.