It might seem premature to write this when contract negotiations are still up in the air, but if Arsenal history is anything to go by, when one star leaves another unlikely one usually steps up from within the ranks to surprise everyone. I’ve been one of his biggest critics over the years so I can almost hardly believe I’m saying this – but could it be Theo Walcott?
We all know he’s been wanting to play as a striker for some time now. We also know that Wenger has often spoken of moving him there after ‘developing’ him on the wings in his youth. Well, he’s 23 now, and he just had an absolute stormer of a game playing upfront against Reading, hitting a brilliant hat-trick to win us a game that looked over after half an hour.
Why the sudden change of heart over Theo? I wouldn’t say my opinion has changed that much actually; as a player, he is extremely limited, there’s no doubt about that. However, the best way to get around that is to limit how much he is involved in the build-up of the game. If he’s bad at passing, dribbling and crossing, but good at running onto through-balls and finishing one-on-ones, then the simple solution is to play him upfront – give him less of the complicated stuff and leave him to do what he’s good at.
But as well as any logical explanation for my sudden faith in Theo, there is the simple fact that in Arsenal’s history (especially under Wenger), when one star leaves a replacement is usually not as far as we think. When Ian Wright left in ’98, Anelka got more games and was excellent, finishing in ’99 as our top scorer and as young player of the year. When Keown got too old to play regularly, a virtually unknown Kolo Toure came in and played so well that old Martin couldn’t get anywhere near the team anyway. When Vieira left, Gilberto, Fabregas and later Flamini all majorly stepped up a gear. When Henry left, Adebayor had the season of his life, scoring 30 goals. When Fabregas and Nasri left, Song suddenly found his inner-playmaker and filled the creative void, while van Persie more than helped make up for the lack of goals from midfield.
This is all terribly nostalgic and irrational, but it does feel like if Walcott is ever going to have ‘his time’ with us, it would have to be now. He was hardly likely to get a chance there while RvP was in such great form last season, but now there is a void left upfront that Giroud, Podolski and Gervinho have not yet managed to fill for various reasons. I have faith that Giroud will come good, and in fact he seems like he’d be the ideal foil for Theo if we ever played 4-4-2 again; it obviously worked quite well in the 4-2-4 we played for much of the second half against Reading. The physical presence of Giroud can free up space for Theo, who probably isn’t tactically clever enough to play upfront on his own.
Let’s hope the contract situation can be sorted out. Even if he’s not the best player in the world, it would be a real shame to lose him to a rival for free. He has earned a new deal with impressive displays in limited appearances this season, so let’s hope he’s put himself more firmly in the mind of the manager.
The team selection for the trip to Man Utd this weekend should be interesting…