I’ve always been cynical about the idea of Theo Walcott playing as the central striker, but after a great display against Reading in the Capital One Cup last week, I think many people’s heads have been turned towards the possibility. Despite starting on the right hand side of the three-man attack of him, Chamakh and young German Serge Gnabry, with Arsenal chasing a four goal deficit he was playing more central, as Arsenal threw players forward, piling on the pressure trying to get back into the game.
Walcott came through the Southampton academy as a striker, and scored on his full home and away debuts as he rapidly rose in fame, quickly becoming one of England’s best young prospects, which led to Arsene Wenger splashing out £12M on him, with appearance bonuses and installments. Since joining Arsenal he has mainly been used as a winger, where he has done well, with last season being his best season so far, contributing eight goals and assists in the Premier League, and feeding Robin van Persie with several high quality crosses. However, he has always wanted to play upfront, and after his great display against Reading, is it time to give him his chance?
Starting with the negatives, his inconsistency in front of goal could be a reason as to why Wenger doesn’t want to let him play as the main striker. Walcott is a good finisher, however can let himself down with his decision-making of when to shoot or pass – though I think all people will admit he’s gotten a lot better lately, presumably from all the regular football in the last eighteen months as he’s cemented his place in the Arsenal line-up. In the last two Premier League seasons, he’s scored seventeen goals, but only has a chance conversion of 14%, compared to strikers last year, significantly less than last years sharp-shooters Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, who had 21% and 23%, respectively.
So, why should Walcott be given a chance up front? His decision-making has vastly improved and he seems to have matured as a player, scoring two goals in five shots so far this season in 203 minutes of Premier League football, then last night he really changed my perception of playing him as a striker. It’s not just that he scored three goals that changed my mind, but he looked assured in front of goal, knowing what he wanted to do when he got it and took his goals well, with three good finishes and some real ‘strikers instinct’. He also made several dangerous runs, diagonal runs in behind the defence or just waiting on the defenders shoulder, ready to pounce if a ball is threaded through to him. His runs pulled the Reading defence all over the place, and was even more effective after Olivier Giroud had come on and started to drag defenders out-of-the-way for him as well, and quite a few times his runs were picked out with great passes from young Thomas Eisfeld and experienced Andrei Arshavin, so, just imagine the service he would get with a trio of Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, and with his pace making these runs, it could be deadly for defences.
Another reason for him to play upfront would be because sometimes he isn’t effective on the wing when teams are compact. When he is double manned, or generally not given lots of space, he’s not very good at dribbling through, with dribbling in tight spaces being one of his main weaknesses for me, a move up front could be better for him, where his movement off the ball would be important, making it easier for him to create his own space, and he wouldn’t be marked out of the game so much.
I, personally, think he should be given a chance up front, he offers something different to the other strikers and he seems to have matured in his decision-making, and with his pace and movement, could certainly tear apart most defences. It definitely is a possibility, and I hope Wenger does give him a chance, especially as they’ve been struggling for goals in a few games this season, being unable to penetrate defences who park the bus. I think he would also be better of if he did ‘Sign Da Ting’ and stay at Arsenal, as he fits their style more than other clubs, and I can’t see him playing too much at other top clubs, so maybe a chance down the middle will help his decision of re-signing for The Gunners? Either way, he should be given a go down the middle.