04 December 2013

Walcott and Gnabry: Release the hounds!

In the run-up to today's match against Hull, I struggled to find a way to make room for both Theo Walcott and Serge Gnabry on the pitch. To get a few options out of the way right off the bat, I'm almost dead-set against playing Theo through the middle. It doesn't play to his strengths, and, what's more, it changes how we play too much for my liking. Similarly, playing Gnabry on the right puts him out of position. Simply put, because they are both at their best on the right, why not play them both there?

Not at the same time, of course. That would be madness. Playing them together did work against the Indonesian Dream Team over the summer to the tune of a 7-0 win. Then again, that was the Indonesian Dream Team. Gnabry and Walcott were on the pitch together for the first half before a wave of substitutions to start the second half. If there's a further caveat, it's that the second wave scored five goals while the Gnabry-Walcott line only bagged two.

Let's not get too bogged down in the details of that match, as the take-aways have too many asterisks attached to them. Instead of trying to find space on the pitch for both of them at the same time, why not start Walcott and see how well he does and how long he lasts? It would be his first competitive match since going down to injury back in September. Giving him 50-60 minutes would give him a chance to find some match-fitness and form without wearing him down too much. By the time he's starting to fade, Gnabry can come on, using his fresh legs (and, let's admit, superior strength and dribbling) to run amok through a weary, frazzled defense.

Between the two of them, we'd be throwing two of our fastest players at a team whose formation provides plenty of space down the flank in that final third. The threat that each of them poses, whether from running onto through-balls, on the dribble, or simply making runs into space, should so thoroughly discombobulate Figueroa and others that both Walcott and Gnabry should get plenty of chances to shoot or to find unmarked teammates in and around the box. Hull will be without Curtis Davies, suspended for his 5th yellow card of the season, which may force James Chester on; his weakness in the air only exacerbates a squad-wide problem, and is one that even Nicklas Bendtner (should he get the nod over Giroud) should be ready to exploit.

The emphasis here, though is on Walcott and Gnabry. Between the two of them, they should be able to eviscerate Hull's taller but slower defenders and take advantage of the space that Hull concedes. They should tear that right flank to ribbons. They should—well, you get the idea. Along the way, I hope that one or both of them scores. After all, I've called for Walcott to go for 20 goals in the Prem this year. Now that he's finally ready for action, I hope today's match sees him kick his season in to gear. In my original match preview, I called on Cazorla and Walcott to score. I'll stand by that and go so far as to summon Gnabry to chip in as well (literally or figuratively).

Final score: 3-0.