One transfer rumour that’s been bubbling beneath the surface all summer has been the one which has linked Liverpool with a move for Arsenal winger Theo Walcott, but does the England international really fit into the style of play that Brendan Rodgers is going for? And is his time at Arsenal numbered?
New Liverpool boss Rodgers is thought to want to get the Merseyside side playing in a 4-3-3 system this season and the early signs in the Europa League games against FC Gomel and throughout pre-season is that the club are doing exactly that, but the scarcity of options out wide is a cause for concern, which has led to the links with Walcott.
At Swansea, Scott Sinclair, Nathan Dyer and Wayne Routledge were the three players rotated between the two wide roles and aside from perhaps Sinclair to a degree, they’re not really the most technically gifted of players around and they act as more of coil being tightly wound before being released on the break as opposed to any attributes that they may have while in possession.
They help provide the crucial penetration, much like Fernando Torres did so well for Spain at Euro 2008 and the platform of three midfielders further inside allows Rodgers to play quicker, less technical players on the wings and not have it disrupt the ebb and flow of the rest of the side too much – in short, it’s a sacrifice worth making.
The club are currently thought to be close to tying up a season-long loan deal for Barcelona wide-man Cristian Tello, which makes sense when you consider that the Catalan club have been reluctant to sell Ibrahim Afellay all summer to any potential suitors. Nevertheless, even if this deal does go through, Rodgers is still probably in need of at least one more winger, with Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy having left the club already, leaving only Joe Cole, Stewart Downing and Raheem Sterling as options.
Walcott has never been a technical player, and if he didn’t have the sort of game-changing blistering pace he possesses, it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that he probably wouldn’t even have been a professional footballer such are the glaring weaknesses to his natural game – while playing for both Arsenal and England, he can at times be found guilty of marking himself out of games, becoming isolated on the right, seemingly lacking the intelligence to get involved with play further in field.
Arsenal are a side that likes to dominate possession and Walcott has never quite fitted into that ethos, so why would he all of a sudden at Liverpool? Did Rodgers only play the likes of Dyer and Routledge out wide for Swansea due to necessity to add pace to his side and with a tight budget in mind?
Walcott is not a bad player by any means and there’s a tangible end product to his game now and even though improvement is almost chronically slow, it’s there for all to see. His sheer pace does change how the opposition sets up against you too – they have to defend deeper to allow him less room to get in behind and utilise his main weapon, which in turn creates more space in midfield for the ball-players to dictate the tempo and zip the ball around; even if Walcott isn’t having a decent game on a personal level, he’s almost always influencing the game in own way or another, often on the opposition’s shape.
Arsenal have invested heavily this summer and even if Robin van Persie leaves, they seem fairly well-stocked out wide, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla all capable of playing there, while the future of Andrei Arshavin is still yet to be resolved.
It remains to be seen what system Wenger will line up with this coming campaign, with Podolski’s success at club level coming in a central role very similar to what Olivier Giroud and Van Persie have occupied in the past. This could lead to a tinkering with Wenger’s fluid 4-3-3 formation which could mean less of a guaranteed starting position for Walcott – I don’t for a minute buy into the whole line of thinking that he’s been kicking up a fuss over Van Persie’s inevitable departure, as it simply doesn’t seem his nature to do something like that.
Walcott would walk into the current Liverpool side, but there are no assurances over his Arsenal place at the moment. With just one year remaining on his contract, there is no suggestion that Wenger either needs or wants to sell, but the player might fancy a change of scenery after seven years at Arsenal, and a move to his boyhood club may be just the ticket. He wouldn’t cost a great deal and he could still be purchased within Rodgers tight transfer budget, even when you factor in the inevitable English premium and Arsenal’s reluctance to sell.
The giant elephant in the room, though, is that while Walcott may occasionally conjure up moments of genius and the odd match-winning cameo like he’s done in the past, for the most part, he is a deeply frustrating, technically deficient (to his peers at least) player that doesn’t quite fit into either Liverpool’s new footballing philosophy or Arsenal’s keep-ball mantra.
His pace is his biggest asset and his only bargaining tool, but take that away and you have a player at odds with two different clubs style of play, but it appears as if both Wenger and Rodgers seem to think that the positives outweight the negatives and it will be interesting to see where he ends up this summer, or if he stays put, because it’s precisely because he’s different that both clubs want him.
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