The ideal role for Theo Walcott

Arsenal winger Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott continues to make a good case for himself to finally get a role through the centre of Arsenal’s attack. His well-taken goal for the Gunners away at West Ham was another impressive finish to add to the two goals against Coventry in the League Cup. But is it enough to warrant a starting role for Arsene Wenger’s side?

I’m yet to be convinced of Walcott as a leading striker for a top Premier League team. He may flourish into one in the near future, but I’m not seeing it now. Goals in the manner that he put them away are impressive, despite the opposition, but the best thing the player can do at the moment is keep his head down and continue on the same path.

The injury while on international duty will be a big blow, and it’s something we’ve seen in the past from Walcott. He’ll get himself set for a good run of scoring form only to be sidetracked by injury. It was a regular occurrence prior to last season and was arguably a big contribution to his slow development. However, even with the issue of a new contract needing to be ironed out before January, Arsene Wenger may not totally trust Walcott as his central figure in attack.

There’s no doubt that the player can come off the bench and make an impact. Champions League ties against AC Milan and Liverpool in the past are good evidence of that, but we’re not seeing the second half scoring performance against Tottenham in last season’s 5-2 win regularly enough. The first half in that game was typical Walcott. Poor first touch and no great contribution is how those first 45-minutes will be remembered. Even the recent loss to Chelsea in the league saw Walcott provide very little, and that was also from an appearance off the bench.

Quite plainly, there’s nothing about Theo’s game that suggests he’s ready for the responsibility of the team’s main striker. But I do believe he’ll become one in the future.

He’s had enough with the wide position in the right flank, and rightfully so. Walcott was never a winger, despite his pace, and he lacks the attributes of a traditional wide player to be effective. He also doesn’t have the aggression and drive that you’d like to see from a key attacking player. He seems too hesitant to take a defender on and use his pace, often dithering on the ball and eventually losing possession. However, that may just be another indication that he’s not good enough for a role in the build-up play.

This system that Arsenal want to deploy using differing attacking styles with Gervinho and Olivier Giroud may work in Walcott’s favour. What if he does start putting away all his chances from the bench? What if he doesn’t use just one or two examples and point to his readiness for a central role? A flurry of goals and consistently good performances will only leave the manager with thoughts about starting Walcott. It’s another option for Arsenal and another system that will only leave the opposition ill-prepared.

I’ve made the point in the past that Walcott can’t be used as the striker in games where the opposition defend deep and have no intention to attack. In games such as those, Walcott becomes close to useless. He doesn’t have the intelligence to get behind a packed defence, nor has he displayed an ability to hold the ball up for his team mates.

Part of the reason he’s been so good coming off the bench is because the opposition have been worn out. They’re in no state to deal with his pace in the 80th minute of a game, often allowing him to race past and advance on goal. It was the theme in which we saw him capitalise in Milan and at Anfield, and how much would West Ham’s defenders have had in the tank to deal with his attack in the recent win at Upton Park?

It’s a learning process at the top level that Walcott never had. He’s never had a run in either the Arsenal or England teams as a striker, thus making the transition a potentially problematic one. The role he has been given of late—one which surely has a lot to do with the contract situation—is one that works for both him and the team. The rest of the Arsenal players are not slowed down by his inferior technical skill, but he’s still getting goals when he finds an opportunity.

If he decides to stay at Arsenal and listen to Wenger’s advice, this could be the season where Walcott establishes himself as a successful central player rather than a frustrating and frustrated winger.