18 October 2013

Is Walcott withering on the vine?

As we head into Saturday's clash with Norwich, we're naturally fantasizing about Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil prowling the midfield, but I've had another injured Gunner on my mind: Theo Walcott. Even before his injury, he's been all but invisible, tallying but a
single goal in seven appearances, almost 600 minutes of football. It's not as if the team has struggled to create chances, and Theo has spurned more than his fair share of them, and so a question is nagging at me: is there room in this squad for Theo? It's an odd question to pose, given how optimistic I've been with him in the past, suggesting he'll go for 20 goals in the Prem this year or that he'd see a surge akin to Gareth Bale's last season. I really thought that this would be a season that saw Theo finally become the goal-scorer we've been waiting for since he joined the club in 2006. As it currently stands, however, he may soon be the second-best player we've signed from Southampton in recent years.

Of course, it's not that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is better than Theo, but the Ox's development and untapped potential seem far vaster than Theo's, who seems to have stagnated. There have been moments when he's reminded us of Henry loping down the flank and curling a shot past a splayed keeper to the far post, but that's all those have been—moments. Even these haven't been pitch-perfect, as Theo's shots have squibbed under the keeper or glanced off the keeper's palm instead of floating past outstretched hands and tucking in to the back of the net. Some of his moments have been fantastic, of course, such as his I-fell-but-it's-not-a-foul-so-I'll-get-up-and-score against Chelsea (and again against Newcastle), but he's still far too anonymous. While his pace can be an important contribution even if he's not scoring (such as against Norwich last year, when he seemed to stretch their defense out of shape and create openings for teammates to score three goals shorty after he came on as a sub). He's only 24, so it's not as if that pace is going to degrade soon, but the larger concern is that pace seems to be the only asset he really has to offer.

Given the depth we now have across midfield, I don't know if we can afford to throw on such a limited attacker when it means that a more-versatile if less-seasoned player is available. We've seen glimpses of what Gnabry and the Ox can do, of course, and they're still works in progress—but, then again, so is Theo, it seems. When everyone is fully fit, Arsène also has Cazorla, Podolski, Özil, Rosický, and Wilshere, and while not all of them is best-deployed as a winger, they're all very versatile, and their fluidity and creativity make it harder to see where Theo's chances would come. It's arguable that our best midfield has Wilshere playing centrally with Cazorla and Özil wide. The three of them buzzing (or in Özil's case, floating) around the midfield certainly inspire more confidence in me than seeing Walcott waiting around on the flank to run onto a through-ball.

If he can come back from his injury and regain his form, that might change things a bit. However, even on his best days, he may not be the best option. These feel to me like harsh words, considering how much of a cheerleader I've been to him, but as one wag put it after seeing the Arsenal Ladies hang eleven goals on CSHVSM-Kairat, "look what a team without Walcotts can do." This is not to say that we do score more without Walcott, but we certainly haven't had trouble scoring in his absence. More seriously, we are going to need Walcott to find his form soon, as November and December offer a sadistic meat-grinder of matches. Even if he's "only" appearing in relief against inferior opponents so as to rest current first-choice teammates, I would love nothing more than to see the Theo who tore Newcastle apart last December do the same against, say, Crystal Palace or Hull. Heck, if netting a few can give him some momentum and confidence to do the same against Chelsea or Man City, so much the better.

Right. We have Norwich tomorrow. Walcott or not, these are three points we should really seize, so I hope we'll see Özil and Cazorla together at last, if only for a half. Until next time, thanks for your visit. Before you go, please consider voting for Woolwich 1886 in the Football Blogging Awards' "best new blog" category. You can click here to here to vote via twitter or here to receive an email ballot. Thanks!