Theo Walcott appears to have a little bit of Nicklas Bendtner about him these days. He wants to plays as a central striker for Arsenal, he says that’s how he arrived when the club bought him from Southampton in 2006. Fair enough, he feels he’s good enough . But I don’t have much sympathy for the player, not in this case. If he was wise he’d hang onto every word Arsene Wenger tells him.
Walcott’s education is still clearly not done on the flanks for the team. Maybe that’s why Roy Hodgson has also opted to keep him wide in his team. And doesn’t it go on to highlight something even more significant about Walcott’s abilities and purpose when England, a team who are light on quality strikers, still don’t look to him as a viable option.
Walcott still doesn’t do the basics right, at least not with any great consistency. He seems to believe that playing as the centre-forward will simply require him to hang on the shoulder of the last defender and wait for a release into the space behind and towards goal. How many times have we seen Arsenal play against deep defences and two banks of four? It isn’t a problem that is central to Arsenal either, all good teams who look to see most of the possession are frustrated by stubborn defences.
But it’s another issue of whether Walcott can be trusted. He’s amassed a Greatest Hits collection of misses in recent seasons. And even though he bagged nine goals for Arsenal last season—a decent number for a wide player—how many times will he need to be played in to put up a respectable number as a striker? The team didn’t have to worry about Walcott’s contribution in front of goal, they had a far more lethal option in their former captain. And even now without Robin van Persie, is Walcott the most reliable finisher in the squad?
Walcott seems to forget that he’s 23 and that players like Thierry Henry didn’t emerge as the stars they were at that age. Or maybe he does and he’s now using his age as a device to warrant some respect in the team. It would be regrettable to talk about the player’s lack of real height and strength as reason for him not playing as the lone striker, but unfortunately it does play some part. He can’t hold the ball up, simply because he’s never shown any ability to do so. His ball control can be woeful at times and do the team really have countless opportunities to wait until he comes good?
If he wants to stay and emulate the impact Thierry Henry had then wouldn’t it be wise to ensure his future remains at Arsenal and with Arsene Wenger to guide him? The departing Henry in 2007 was certainly far removed from the Henry that arrived in 1999. But sometimes there’s a feeling that Walcott may come to regret his pleas for a central role. Does he really want all the responsibility as the team’s most obvious source of goals? What happens when it doesn’t come together for him and he potentially crumbles under the pressure? At least from the wide position he’s protected, with much of the focus on other forwards in the Arsenal team.
His pace would be a great asset to have for Arsenal, but how many times would they be able to use it? He’s also recently displayed excellent scoring ability, however it was against Coventry. His following appearance against Chelsea was largely forgettable.
I don’t believe the manager is showing little faith in him or that the player is right to take up a difficult stance. It’s clear that he’s not ready for a central role, nor is the team ready to adapt to his game. It might essentially equate to Arsenal defending with 10 men in stead of 11. Walcott may use his pace to close down the opposition, but his tracking back is greatly lacking in his game.
He’s been offered a good contract and plenty of open road to fulfil his potential as a striker. But for now Walcott would be wise to listen to Wenger. What guarantees does he have that any other team will play him in his preferred position?