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Is Theo Still A Tactical Fit For Arsenal?

Arsenal have waited a long time to be able to reintroduce Theo Walcott back into the fray. The England forward’s attributes are, by now, reasonably obvious and it’s equally apparent as to why a player with Walcott’s qualities would be missed. In the final furlong of the 2013-14 season, shorn of Ramsey, Özil and Theo, the Gunners became rather one paced and predictable. That Walcott and Özil have crossed one another like ships in the night is one of the minor tragedies of the last 12 months. It’s impossible to imagine the pair not enjoying one another’s company on the pitch very much indeed.

Since Walcott was stretchered off, grinning mischievously at the travelling Spurs fans in January, Arsenal have changed. Not yet for the better it must be said, with Arsene Wenger still searching for a formula in the front 6 that works consistently. Wenger has tried to introduce more attacking variety into his midfield, primarily by trying to chisel out a partnership between Ramsey and Wilshere in midfield. Walcott returned to the squad as an unused substitute against Sunderland on Saturday and his reintroduction to the team is nigh. But the question abounds as to how he will reacclimatise, not just physically, but tactically.

walcott 2 nil spurs

The last time Walcott was available, Arsenal were very much configured around the differing qualities of Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud, with Aaron Ramsey’s foraging runs becoming increasingly fruitful. Giroud and Özil are consigned to the treatment table now, and the Gunners have since acquired Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck. In many respects, the latter point may be the most problematic for Walcott. Back in January, Walcott was benefitting from a strike partnership of sorts with Olivier Giroud. Though Walcott’s starting position was from the right, Giroud and Walcott was as close to a “little and large” strike partnership as Arsene Wenger has ever deployed in his Arsenal tenure.

Walcott was the sole purveyor of pace in the Gunners attack. It was part of what made him so indispensable, Theo was the player that offered threat in behind defences. With Sanchez and Welbeck now a regular part of the Arsenal frontline, this is no longer the case. The question is, can the three co-exist together? Potentially there’s a great deal of fluidity in such a front 3, with all 3 men able to play all across the frontline and swap positions during a game. Alexis likes to wander and pick the ball up from deep. Walcott prefers to stay firmly on the shoulder of opposing defenders. However, it is also a combination that is possibly too similar, that can be contained by a defence that sits deep and refuses to leave the 18 yard line.

Without Özil, I don’t think a front 3 of that constitution can work. It’s all very well having three livewire strikers pulling centre halves hither and thither, but they need somebody to give them the ball. A wasp can be agile, angry and fly perfectly menacingly, but it wouldn’t scare anybody without a sting in its tail. Even with Özil, I’m not convinced there would be enough creativity to balance the team. Especially as Ramsey relies on service too. In fact, for the short period of the season that Walcott was fit last year, Ramsey’s goals dried up. That’s four Arsenal attackers relying on one player to quench their thirst. It’s too many cooks with not enough waiters. Opposition sides only (!) need to double mark Özil and cut off the supply line and Arsenal are in danger of being rendered impotent.

Alexis would have to play much deeper to make it work and when Özil returns, I think I’d prefer to see the Chilean’s talents utilised much nearer to the goal. Arsenal’s line up against Sunderland may have been portentous of how the Gunners could line up whilst Özil is sidelined, with Alexis playing in behind Welbeck. Alexis’ energy and ability to run at players lends itself well to a central role. His occasional inefficiency in possession is less pronounced here too, you’re less exposed losing the ball on the D of the opponent’s area than you are in wide positions, where counter attacks are easier to launch. However, Walcott is likely to be eased in slowly, he won’t be in any shape to start games regularly until Özil is much closer to fitness in any case. Sanchez’s stint in the enganche role is a temporary measure.

ozil welbeck

It’s my belief that Arsenal need Cazorla or Rosicky as Özil’s creative foil to balance the side and diversify the supply lines. Something has to give. It’s difficult to make a case to drop Alexis Sanchez to make way for Theo. Welbeck is interesting I think because he combines the attributes of Walcott and Giroud in a composite player. Welbeck offers pace and threat in behind, even if he’s not quite as quick as Walcott. He can also resist challenges from defenders and hold up play, even if he isn’t quite the physical specimen Giroud is. Potentially, Welbeck’s signing reduces the dependence on both Giroud and Walcott.

Conversely given the theme of the article, I think there is too much obsession with precise starting XI’s in this day and age. Arsenal are likely to play in the region of 55 matches and squad rotation and injuries are a racing certainty for every team. It will be a while before Walcott is physically able to start matches back to back and gain full sharpness. But in the long term, I just can’t see a front 3 of Walcott, Alexis and Welbeck working together. Theo’s contract is up for renewal and he may want to broach that discussion with Arsene Wenger in the coming weeks. I, for one, would love to be privy to Wenger’s explanation for his plans for Theo Walcott in the long term. LD.

 Tell us what you think! If you agree, or have a different view, please leave a comment in the comments section or why not write a response or your own article on YouWrite?

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Tags: Walcott, Özil, Strikers, Sanchez, Alexis Sanchez, Welbeck, Attack

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