England’s perennial ‘nearly man’ Theo Walcott is closing in on his ten year anniversary with North London side Arsenal. The former Southampton winger has shown flashes of brilliance for both club and country over the past decade, but niggling injuries and dips in form have stopped him realising his full potential. An ongoing contract dispute with the Gunners has led to questions surrounding his future at the club, though he is reported to be crucial to Arsene Wenger’s plans for the upcoming season. The upcoming season could define him.
Throughout his career, the idea of playing Walcott as a central striker has been toyed with. Though often placed on the right wing of either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, the England international seems himself as an out and out forward. The Gunners boast a packed midfield, with a host of feather footed playmakers in their engine room but lack a cutting edge up front. Both (perhaps unfairly) Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck have failed to convince fans and pundits alike they can lead the line for a side who wish to challenge for the Premier League. The time is right for Theo.
A clinical end to the season has helped Walcott’s cause in the quest to become Arsenal’s leading man. On the final day of the season, he netted a hat-trick against West Brom, making him – statistically – the Premier League’s most lethal goal scorer in 2014/15. The soon-to-be-striker averaged a goal more often than any other player during the campaign, finding the net every 88.2 minutes.
In fact, over the last couple of seasons, he has been similarly as ruthless. Despite injuries and operating on the flank, he has averaged a goal every 129.9 minutes.
However, the former Southampton prodigy can – at times – appear be rushed in front of goal. He is a player who has frequently been derided for his lack of ‘footballing intelligence’ and has often been perceived to offer little else than pace. Walcott himself summed up his early career, ‘When I was younger, my team mates would kick it behind the defence and I’d run onto it and score.’ If it only it were that easy.
The perception may have been an apt one at times, but as the England international reaches his peak years, his manager has certainly seen a marked improvement. Wenger praised his player earlier on this summer ‘when he was younger he rushed in front of goal but he has improved now.’
A front man with lightning pace, on paper, is perfect for Arsenal. Where Oliver Giroud brings others in to play, Walcott’s searing speed would provide an effective outlet to all of Arsenal’s possession. Keeping the ball is not an issue for the North London side, but the FA Cup winners can struggle to break teams down on occasion. Theo can change that.
Everything appears to be gearing up towards a defining season in the attacker’s Arsenal career. There is finally an opening to fulfil a central striking role, and his improved ability to finish should afford him at least a chance. What Walcott must do is learn to play against deep lying defences. When teams drop back and leave little space to run into, he must learn how to run at them rather than behind them.
Wenger has previous when converting wingers into forwards. The previous holder of Walcott’s number 14 shirt will tell you that. That is not to say Theo Walcott is in the same bracket as Thierry Henry, but Arsenal have a unique weapon in the 26 year old. He may not be the most nuanced of footballers, but his pace can be devastating.
It is make or break for Walcott at Arsenal. God help Premier League defences if he makes it.