The following headline caught my eye this weekend: ‘Walcott ready to spread his wings and take central role’. It was in The Times and written by Tom Dart, the paper’s correspondent in Hangzhou. Of course, as the title suggests, it was all about Theo becoming a striker.
Should I write ‘becoming’ a striker? Hasn’t he always been one? But instead of playing Theo where his pace could have the most devastating effect, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger prefers to play him on the wing, where his pace will take him past one or two players and lead to a hurried cross or a shot from an acute angle. Although Theo can score from ridiculous angles, the chances are aganst it and I don’t think we should moan about spurned chances when he’s playing in that position. He’s doing an awful lot of work tracking back, so he can’t be expected to be going hammer and tongs at goal at the same time. It’s too much to expect.
But journalists generally pander to populist opinion for fear of irritating their readers, so the following day I read that Theo had squandered a plethora of chances, or words to that effect. While it’s true he did miss the target a couple of times and forced the Hangzhou keeper to make a save or two, the fact that he’s getting in positions to score should be credited.
You might say that’s not a big deal, but in the Far East friendlies, very few shots were registered on goal. Obviously, Hangzhou were wary given they’d conceded 8 against Manchester United in their last friendly encounter with Premier League opposition, but nonetheless the rest of Arsenal’s shot-shy attack looked tired.
The 4-0 scoreline against Malaysia looks a better result on paper, but really it only served to mask Arsenal’s deficiencies that have yet to be addressed by the manager. Yes, Wenger’s done some business on the transfer front. Not a lot, but some. Now we’ve got Gervinho and he may make a difference upfront. And we’ve added Joel Campbell, for just under a million, but he’s going to be loaned out apparently. So once again, the transfer policy seems to be about investing for the future, not for the forthcoming season.
But many Arsenal fans feel that it’s about time this squad started delivering and I believe if Theo is played in his rightful position, as a striker leading the line, this team can become more effective. He doesn’t need to hold up play. Theo needs a ball behind the defence, and if he’s playing off the final defender’s shoulder, he will be first to the ball every time. Even if the pass is a poor one, Theo’s speed can make that ball defence-splitting.
I’d stick Robin van Persie in ‘the hole’ behind Theo. Maybe Gervinho can do a job on the right wing and fill in for Theo, the boy wonder makeshift winger who might become a real Batman delivering Arsenal’s knockout punch if played in his correct position. Pow!