There is always a danger of over-hyping those who have been out of the spotlight for an extended period of time. Yet there is little in the way of sensationalising the impact Theo Walcott will have at Arsenal after returning from injury against Southampton on the weekend.
It only takes a quick glance over the numbers of last season to see how important Walcott is to this Arsenal team. His 14 goals and 10 assists in the Premier League played a considerable part in helping Arsene Wenger’s side capture fourth place, while the short spell spent at centre-forward will give both Walcott and Wenger confidence in the knowledge that another option is now available.
Walcott represents an aspect of the game that Arsenal have been missing this season. It hasn’t always been evident: Aaron Ramsey has offered industry and goals from all areas of the midfield, and the defensive stability in the team at present has given the attackers independence to stream forward. But variation and added dynamics makes teams stronger. Walcott’s pace and those teams who know how to exploit it become frightening propositions for opponents, both away and at home.
Maybe there has been kindness in the domestic schedule for Arsenal. But in truth, there is little comfort when dealing with the unpredictable nature of the Premier League. Arsenal have nevertheless forced themselves to the top of the league table, at times playing their famed brand of football, others just getting the job done in an efficient manner. Heading into the congested Christmas schedule and with bodies undoubtedly tiring, Walcott’s arrival onto the scene will not only allow others a breather, but also provide invaluable competition for one of the three attacking midfield positions.
Such has been Walcott’s time at the top of the English game that it can be easy to forget that he hasn’t quite hit his peak as a footballer. Yes, there is an argument to be made that at 24 we already know what to expect from players like Mesut Ozil. But the German is an exception. For Walcott, it’s still a case that he’s rounding out his game to be a consistent threat in front of goal. Notably, a host of chances were wasted when Ozil put Walcott through on goal against Sunderland earlier in the season.
But when you’re dealing with a player of Walcott’s ability, you don’t always need to see the results of his contribution on the score sheet. His pace forces a tactical switch in the way opponents play – obviously to Arsenal’s benefit. Away from home where the opposition may at times feel the pitch is sloping in their favour, Walcott offers the option of counterattacking at considerable pace. With a handful of able finishers in the team at any one time, Arsenal are always likely to be a threat on the break.
More than anything, the presence of an established first-team player, and one who is able to contribute much, will be a boost to the rest of the squad. Outside help will only arrive sometime in January – if Wenger chooses to spent, that is – and minds over bodies may be feeling the strain of few breaks in the calendar thus far.
It shouldn’t be forgotten just how valuable Walcott has been to Arsenal strikers over the past few seasons. Olivier Giroud, unquestionably carrying the weight of striking responsibility at the club, will greatly benefit, too, in the coming months.
Is the return of Walcott a welcome boost for Arsenal?
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