Having alternated throughout the opening weeks of the season between Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott occupying the lone strikers role in his team, Arsene Wenger now has a decision to make. In order to be successful, it is vital he decides once and for all who is his number one frontman at the club – and he needs to make that decision fast.
The more time goes by, both players will start to think of the position as their own, and the harder it will be for either to get used to being a squad player. If Wenger persists with this rotation, his side will never be able to settle into a definite style of play, because since the two are such different styles of frontman, this means the midfield and other attacking players must keep constantly adapting to their different needs from game to game – never a recipe for consistency.
Since the Arsenal boss appears singularly unwilling to experiment with Joel Campbell, and Danny Welbeck is still shackled by a long-term knee problem which has so far showed no sign of abating, it appears to be a straight shootout between Walcott and Giroud. The softly spoken Berkshire lad and the Gallic heartthrob have little in common on the pitch, with their styles of play polar opposites.
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Giroud is the kind of hold-up striker who loves a physical confrontation against a pair of hulking centre-halves, while Walcott is much happier latching onto a chipped through ball, using his turbo-charged pace to evade defenders, who often look like they are wading through quicksand while chasing him.
We can therefore see that both have highly valuable assets, which Wenger will be keen to exploit in the most efficient way possible.
My argument would be that Arsenal are at their best when both of these valuable players are in the team, which leaves Wenger really with only one option. I believe the Frenchman should play his compatriot as lone centre forward (at least until Welbeck returns to full fitness), while playing Walcott in the position he occupied a fair bit during his early years at the club; on either side of an attacking three. This would get both of them onto the pitch at the same time, which I believe is vital for Arsenal. The skill of great managers is to get the best out of their best players, and by utilising Giroud and Walcott in this fashion Wenger would be able to get the best out of two of his most important players.
Once we establish that both Giroud and Walcott have to play, the main point is that while Walcott can play in more than one position, the Frenchman cannot. This means that Walcott’s talents by default have to be used from the wing, where he can either cut in and shoot, or go past players and get a cross in, and Giroud can do what he does best; bully defenders and attack that near post from crosses.
People who point to Walcott’s scoring record as a striker, which is admittedly very good, are missing the bigger picture in my opinion. Giroud can not only score, he can use his strength and size to pin defenders and bring others into play – such as Walcott, coming in off the flanks to devastating effect. If Walcott plays as a striker, it’s hard to get Giroud in the team without also having to leave out another creative player such as Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil or Alexis Sanchez. If Giroud plays up front however, Walcott still has the ability to score goals and make chances, while also being able to use his frightening pace to leave defenders with twisted blood.
Wenger has up to now avoided making the choice, and seems intent on, to a large extent, bowing to Walcott’s wishes and deploying him as a centre forward. As previously stated, I have no problem with him as a striker, but it does seem a tragic waste of Giroud, who would then probably be stuck on the bench.
The time has now come for Arsenals manager to once again make the right decision – or make the wrong one, and watch his team potentially suffer as a result.