As we enter a new Premier League campaign, it seems fair to say that Arsenal are going through something of a transitional period, as deadline day approached transfers were secured by Arsene Wenger to fill the void left by the departures of both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. The likes of Per Mertesacker, Yossi Benayoun, Gervinho, and Mikel Arteta were brought in before 11pm on August 31st, but eyebrows will still be raised over the lack of attacking options Arsene Wenger has at his disposal. Van Persie has proven to be one of the best forwards in the league, though he has struggled with injuries for much of his Arsenal career, and a reliance upon the Dutchman up front has often cost Wenger dear when he has not been fit to play.
Enter Theo Walcott. Since signing for Arsenal back in 2006, the 22-year-old has always been deployed by Arsene Wenger on the wings. In 117 league appearances for the club, Walcott has bagged 19 goals and 16 assists, as well as earning himself a regular place in the England national side. Despite establishing himself as Arsenal’s ‘best winger’, Walcott has often suggested he would prefer a different role at Arsenal, and that he has the ability to play up front given the chance. Walcott was signed at the age of 17, and at the time was deployed as a striker at Southampton. However, Wenger has defended his choice to play Walcott out wide by insisting the England international is too lightweight to play down the middle of the park.
Since the days of Bergkamp and Henry, Arsenal have lacked the attacking potency required to mount a challenge on both a domestic and European front. While Van Persie is entering his eighth season at the club and is likely to guarantee the North Londoners double figures in terms of goals, the Dutchman has failed to complete a full season without injury since joining in 2004, and Wenger may wish to seek alternative attacking options as the season progresses and both domestic and European commitments start to take their toll on his players.
Walcott has claimed that he is “not a natural winger”, and has suggested that playing on the wings at Arsenal is a waste of his potential as a front man. Despite his apparent reluctance to play out wide, his performances at club level have earned him a place in the England national side, also out on the flanks. However, the 22-year-old has often come under criticism for his lack of consistency, and failure to provide service for front men both at Arsenal and for England. What Walcott does have is a blistering pace that most defenders would hate to come up against, and this would undoubtedly be beneficial to any front man. His finishing probably would require some working on, but while he is deployed as a winger at Arsenal this is unlikely to be at the fore of Wenger’s concerns.
Walcott has insisted that he “will play anywhere for club and country”, but many Arsenal fans would at least like to see Wenger try out a formation in which he does lead the line, and Van Persie fills a role in just behind the front man. Arsenal look set to face one of their toughest seasons in the Premier League for a number of years, and while a lack of creativity in midfield may have been replaced after the departures of both Fabregas and Nasri, the attacking potency of Arsenal is bound to be brought into question.
Arsenal have struggled with their opening fixtures and have picked up just one point in three games, and suffered an 8-2 thrashing away at Manchester United. While many have already written the North Londoners off for the league title, a top-four finish is also far from guaranteed. Should Wenger’s side continue to struggle then a different set up in terms of formation may be preferable at the Emirates, but with Gervinho coming in on the opposite flank, the Frenchman looks set to stick with the formation he has gone with in previous seasons. Walcott has openly expressed his desire to play up front for Arsenal, and claimed he would “love it if it happens” anytime soon. The way things are going at the moment at Arsenal, it may be a risk worth taking for Wenger and should things not go to plan, he can always revert to the current formation.
Arsenal will need goals from somewhere if they are to mount any serious challenge both domestically and in Europe this season, and a reliance on Van Persie up front has proven to be unsuccessful so far for Wenger. Should Theo Walcott’s wish to play up front be granted and prove successful, then Arsenal may once again be considered a force to be reckoned with. For now, much attention will be placed upon those players brought in over the summer period, but it is only a matter of time before questions over Arsenal’s attacking potency are raised once more.
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