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Napoli vs. Arsenal: Arsenal Missed the Explosive Pace of Theo Walcott in Naples

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal looks on from the bench during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Arsenal and Olympique de Marseille at Emirates Stadium on November 26, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

In the end, Arsenal made it through the Champions League group stage by the skin of their teeth. However, they had to settle for second place in Group F and now they face the daunting prospect of a draw against one of Europe’s giants.

Had Arsene Wenger chosen to unleash the pace of Theo Walcott upon Napoli’s defence, things might have been different.

Before the match, Wenger indicated that he would name a typically attacking line-up. It is simply not in Arsenal’s nature to go into a game looking to defend.

Theo Walcott would have been an obvious selection: Having been on the sidelines for six weeks or so, he is fresh and in need of match practice. What’s more, his electric speed would have offered Arsenal a constant outlet on the counter-attack.

Instead, Wenger opted for the experience of Tomas RosickyRosicky had played an important role in the home victory over Napoli, and in the absence of the rested Aaron Ramsey, perhaps Wenger thought it important to include someone with Rosicky’s technical ability and creativity.

Furthermore, the Czech probably offers more protection to his full-back. With the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson at right-back, Wenger may have seen this as a priority. 

At that stage, it seemed Wenger planned to use Walcott as an impact substitute. He has shown many times how effective he can be in that role. Most recently, he came on to create a goal for Aaron Ramsey in the 3-0 win at Cardiff. As defenders tire, Walcott tends to flourish. 

However, Walcott never actually made it off of the bench. As the game wore on and the Napoli defence became stretched, the match seemed ripe for Walcott’s introduction. With the Italians chasing the three goals needed to be assured of qualification, he would surely have gotten opportunities to run in behind their increasingly high defensive line.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Theo Walcott of Arsenal comes on a substitute watched by manager Arsene Wenger during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on November 23, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Of course, introducing Walcott would not have provided any guarantees. However, there was one incident in the second half which demonstrated the impact he might have made.

A long ball upfield saw Olivier Giroud run clear on the Napoli goalkeeper, Rafael Cabral Barbosa. However, the Frenchman lacked the requisite pace to reach the ball and the debutant keeper got there first to clear. Had it been Walcott chasing the pass, the outcome might have been dramatically altered.

Arsenal have a vital match against Manchester City coming up on Saturday. Perhaps Wenger will learn from this defeat that sometimes attack is the best form of defence. 

Having been left idle on the bench in Naples, Walcott must be raring to go. The Etihad could be the perfect place to unleash him.

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.

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