Theo Walcott: Is Arsenal Forward the Man to Lead Gunners to Top Four?
Arsenal have just come away from the DW Stadium having beaten Wigan Athletic by one goal to nil to—temporarily at least—move up to third place in the Premier League. Having been down in the lower part of the top half just a few short weeks ago, it caps a remarkable turnaround in morale for the North London club ahead of the Christmas period of fixtures.
Despite the three points, Arsenal's victory was far from convincing and they were perhaps fortunate not to concede a late penalty, having won a dubious one of their own. That spot kick eventually ended up the match-winning goal.
Centre-forward for the blunted Gunners was Theo Walcott. Still without an agreement for a new contract and requiring a central striking role on a more regular basis, the attacker did not show that there was ample reason for Wenger to acquiesce to his demands.
The question for the manager, of course, is whether playing Walcott as the main striker, and the effective replacement for Robin van Persie, is likely to result in a Champions League spot for the Gunners.
The top four "trophy"
Wenger has already insisted that finishing in the top four is as prestigious, and as important, as winning actual silverware. He does not regard Arsenal's seven-year trophy drought as particularly significant because they have qualified for the Champions League every year in that period.
Certainly he regards a top-four finish as more important than winning either of the English domestic cups.
Regardless of whether fans agree with him, Wenger will pick his league teams based on that justification.
Walcott therefore will be expected to score enough goals, perhaps 18 or 20, in the league alone to show he is consistently good enough to be the man who leads Arsenal to this particular "trophy."
In all competitions, Walcott is Arsenal's top scorer with 11 strikes this campaign. No other Gunner has yet hit double figures, and Wenger has rotated his centre-forward between Walcott, Gervinho, Olivier Giroud and, early on in the season, Lukas Podolski.
Five of Walcott's goals have come in the league, though he has started only seven matches—a further seven coming as sub.
Prior to the Wigan game, Walcott had a 31 percent chance conversion rate from his league shots, which compares favourably to every other Arsenal forward—particularly to Giroud, who has converted just 10 percent of his shots this term.
Walcott vs. Wigan
Playing the full 90 minutes against the second-leakiest defence in the Premier League should have given Walcott a chance to add to his goals tally. He had four shots in the match but hit the target with only one of them, a close-range effort from the six-yard-box line, which was saved by Ali Al-Habsi.
Arsenal were sluggish in the final third and to be fair to Walcott they did not create too many clear-cut chances, but the striker's movement was also below par, never really giving the likes of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla an option to utilise their creative passing.
Did Walcott do enough to suggest he should remain the central attacker for Arsenal on a long-term basis? Surely not. But did he did he perform well enough in the context of a single game, compared to his teammates, to keep his place and earn another shot?
After all, Arsenal won the game, and Walcott himself won the penalty—albeit a soft decision—which resulted in the winning goal.
Is he worth the money?
The Mirror Football article linked to above which details Walcott's contract argument states that the Arsenal man is holding out for a deal worth around £100,000 per week.
Quite aside from the question of will Walcott score enough goals, is he worth that kind of money?
Perhaps in Wenger's view, if the No. 14 contributes enough goals to keep Arsenal in the top four then he is worth the cost. Walcott himself doesn't look to be easily dissuaded from his demands so that might be the key question the manager needs to answer.
What should Wenger do with Walcott?
With the January transfer window now only a week away, Walcott could actually begin talking with foreign-based sides immediately to set up a transfer in the summer. Arsenal would receive no fee for him.
On the other hand, selling the striker next month would leave Arsenal needing a replacement and potentially strengthening their rivals—especially if Walcott gets the striker's role elsewhere and goes on to prove his worth.
It will be an ongoing situation for a few more weeks but Arsene Wenger's opinion on the matter could end up being the difference between Arsenal winning another of those top four trophies, and winning nothing at all yet again.
Statistical data from EPLindex.com and WhoScored.com
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