Arsenal: Play Theo Walcott Through the Middle; He's Earned It
Theo Walcott is a hugely frustrating player. His game at Stamford Bridge last spring that saw him deliver a woeful performance in the first half against Chelsea, only to hammer in two beautiful second-half goals, epitomizes the Englishman's Janus-like persona on the field.
Which makes the 23-year-old's contract dispute a bit befuddling. The BBC has reported that the Southampton-trained winger rejected a £75,000-per-week contract back in August, holding out, in his words, not for more money, but for a central striking berth.
It was a laughable proposition a year ago, what with Robin van Persie still in the squad and the Dutchman seemingly being the only target Walcott could pick out from his wide position with any kind of consistency. A year later, the now-injured Gervinho has five goals to his name having transitioned into a central role.
Olivier Giroud, for all of the promise that he holds going forward, is still easing into Arsenal's first XI. After his effort that set up Mikel Arteta over the weekend and the gorgeous header against Reading on Tuesday on a ball that was served by Walcott, it's clear that his greatest strength is his aerial work.
Consistent service is not Walcott's strong suit, as most fans can attest. But Lukas Podolski and Andrei Arshavin are more than competent in that department. The Russian had a terrific game against Reading, laying on three assists, and it was his introduction that provided the creativity to break down Queens Park Rangers last weekend.
With the injury to Gervinho and the blooding of youngster Serge Gnabry into the first team, now is the perfect opportunity to give Walcott his shot at center-forward.
With a team-leading seven goals and four assists to his name from a mere three starting appearances and 11 overall, the statistics are on his side. But more importantly, he is beginning to look like an out-and-out striker.
His run on the first of his three goals against Reading was sublime, equalled only by his chipped finish. It looked so uncharacteristic for the speedster, but it was hardly a fluke. His second and third goals were not nearly as pretty, but he was exactly where he needed to be.
His pace and even his movement have never been in doubt. It's Walcott's much-maligned football brain, the characteristic that seems to set him apart from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That both Chamberlain and Arsene Wenger see the 19-year-old as a midfielder in the future is a testament to this. Even now Chamberlain may be a more complete footballer than Theo Walcott.
But come Saturday's match against Manchester United, Walcott should be given his opportunity. Podolski and Arshavin should flank Giroud from the start, and I think most would agree with this starting trident based on current form.
Around the 60-minute mark, however, Walcott should be introduced for Giroud. With the vision and touch of Podolski and Arshavin on either side of him and a tiring, somewhat makeshift Manchester United central defensive pairing opposite him, Walcott will have an ideal opportunity to demonstrate to Arsene Wenger, and all of England, why he deserves to be there.
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