Will Wenger rectify his Walcott mistakes?

Alex Oxlade Chamberlian arrived this summer as little more than a confirmation of Arsene Wenger’s flawed transfer policy, a throwback to the past as it were – an obsession with focusing on the future when investment was required on the present. Now, after an impressive performance on his Champions League debut, he now represents optimistic Gunners fans’ hopes of the future. Having mirrored the move Theo Walcott made back in 2006, a player 4 years his senior, the parallels are there for all to see. While Walcott is still striving to prove himself, will Wenger be able to steer Oxlade-Chamberlain in the right direction at a quicker rate? That is the challenge the beleaguered Arsenal boss has now set himself.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was always destined to be compared to Walcott. They both play in the same position, they both come from the same club and they both cost a disproportionate amount of money considering their relative inexperience in the top flight. However, dig a little deeper, and it
is as close to the continual folly by which Andre Villas-Boas is often likened to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. The differences are most definitely there, if you’d only care to look beyond the headline.

Theo Walcott is most definitely a mixed bag. Alan Hansen once derided the player on the Match of the Day sofa for lacking that most crucial of tools at the highest level – ‘a footballing brain’. Trying to come to some sort of concrete opinion on Walcott is an extremely difficult task; just when you think he’s turned a corner in terms of his development, a frustrating spell of indifferent form follows or an injury threatens to curtail all of his progress. Or vice versa, just when he’s been written off for the umpteenth time, he delivers a crucial goal or assist in a match of season-defining
importance.

While the pros and cons of a player such as Walcott ensure that he’s forever likely to be a player that divides opinion, one judgement that will unite most fans is this – he’s simply not developed at a quick enough rate considering his potential.

Walcott is 22 years of age now and he boasts a wealth of Champions League, international and Premier League experience. While it’s worth remembering that his career is still in its relative infancy, the inconsistency that has marred his play has shown no signs of disappearing anytime soon.

What is quantifiable though is the increased end product of his endeavours. Last season Walcott achieved his most successful campaign yet in an Arsenal shirt, scoring 13 times and assisting 8 goals across all competitions. For a player that considers himself to be playing out of position, that’s a healthy return by anyone’s standards.

Returning to Oxlade-Chamberlain, after the Olympiakos win, assistant-manager Pat Rice lavished praise on his club’s latest new-fangled youngling stating: “He has a big, big challenge to now get in front of Theo. It all bodes well for England anyway. From Arsenal supporters’ point of view, they are going to be seeing a lot of this boy,” Rice added. I know that Theo is a very strong-willed guy as well and he won’t give in easy. Alex can go inside, he can go outside, he’s got that injection of pace and I think what he needs now is to be consistent in his play. I am sure that is something he will be working on because he’s certainly not a stupid boy.”

There are two things to extrapolate from a statement such as this. The first being that Oxlade-Chamberlain has certainly arrived and will become much more heavily involved as the season progresses. The second, to my mind at least, is that it may hint at a switch inside for Walcott to a more central role. The long-term planning must be to have Chamberlain on the right and Walcott in his preferred central striking position, otherwise spending such a hefty sum of money on a position that simply didn’t require reinvestment is nothing short of daft.

There are subtle differences between both the players game’s already too. Walcott appears to be the quicker of the two and while Oxlade-Chamberlain is no slouch, he doesn’t quite have the England midfielder’s devastating injection of pace. Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to have a wiser head on his shoulders to with concerns to positional play. He may have left Sagna exposed on occasion, but no more so than Walcott has been doing in the past couple of years. He looks calmer and more composed on the ball and if rumours at to be believed, has a better delivery on him too.

To put it simply, he looks more advanced at the same age than Walcott was. But herein lays the problem with comparing two players such as this. They are both young and will both develop in different ways. Walcott can infuriate and inspire in equal measure – an inconsistent, game-changing player he will always remain no matter how much coaching you give him. He’s more instinctive whereas Oxlade-Chamberlain looks tailor-made to be taught.

Walcott finally appears to be delivering on his potential to an extent. However, he can still cut a peripheral figure on the side-lines at times, seemingly lacking the predisposed nature to get himself involved in better positions in tight games. The frustration with Walcott appears to reside in the fact that he’s simply not going to turn out to be the world-beater we all hoped he would be after he first burst onto the scene. Instead, he’s destined to be a flawed, speedy and potentially match-winning winger – a precious commodity all the same.

With Oxlade-Chamberlain though, the benefits of having a full season under his belt in a competitive league such as League One already appear to be bearing fruit. Wenger won’t rush him, he’s far too sensible for that, but unlike with the Walcott acquisition, because he looks a more rounded player, he may be able to blood him quicker which can only be to the player’s
future benefit.

The proposition of the two dovetailing in Arsenal’s attack in the years to come is an exciting prospect for Arsenal and England fans. But this idealised prospect comes with a caveat of sorts – just don’t expect them to be the same player, for the subtle differences in their games are only likely to grow further as Wenger gets his professorial clutches into his latest protégé.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1
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