20 May 2015

Walcott to punish Pantilimon all over again...

Look, I know that the man played 18 minutes against Manchester United and only 21 minutes the week before against Swansea, but it's hard to resist the idea that Theo Walcott is raring to go. While other players are getting a bit rubbery after playing week in and week out all season, Theo has to be fresh as a daisy, not to mention chomping at the bit, after being sidelined for most of the last 12 months, first by that ACL tear and then by uneven play compounded by much-more intense competition at his favored position, whether it was from the the newly signed Alexis or Welbeck or the displacement of Ramsey to the wing to make room for the Cazorla-Coquelin combo. As he's sat, it's been all too easy to opine that he's fallen out of favor, to the point that there's been open talk of selling him in the summer. Madness. Please remind yourself of what the man can do. Better yet, let's hope he gets a chance to show us against Sunderland.

Tall-ish guy, wearing green? Theo owns him.
For those short on memory, Theo does have the ability to turn a game on its head. Witness his sequence against Man U when we were seeking an equaliser. Ramsey, dilly-dallying on the left wing, saw Theo lurking on Man U's right flank and sent a ball a good 70 yards into the area. Poor Tyler Blackett. Between his imagined fear of Theo's pace and the very real display of it—our man cut side-to-side thrice inside of a second—he was helpless. The own-goal is secondary to our purpose here. Get Theo the ball on the wing, whether on a counter or in a one-one-one situation, and he's likely to but them open, neck to navel.

From Sunderland to Man U, we take a slight detour to Man City. Lest you forget, the last time that Theo faced Sunderland keeper Costel Pantilimon was at the Etihad when we were depantsed 6-3. However, despite the demoralisation of that day, it's worth remembering that Theo came away with a brace, twice beating Pantilimon on a day when the man was protected by Zabaleta, Kompany (when that name meant something...), and Touré (again, when that name meant, well, I digress...). Fast forward from then 'til now. Pantilimon has settled in as Sunderland's keeper of choice. At 2.03m (6'8"), he's the tallest player in the Prem and can cover roughly 13% of the goal simply by standing there, arms and legs akimbo. However, Theo found a way around and over Pantilimon on that ill-fated day.

Something tells me that on Wednesday, shielded by a somewhat-less stalwart back-line, Pantilimon will find himself exposed. It's not that he's a bad keeper—not by a long shot (pardon the pun). Like any keeper, he depends on those in front of him to deny clear-cut chances. I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Aanholt, O'Shea, and Larsson offer their keeper less cover than Zabaleta, Kompany, and Touré. As such, Theo should find a fair-few chances to get in behind Sunderland's defense even if Sunderland hope to defend a draw. After all, in barely ten minutes of action, Theo manufactured a goal at Old Trafford against a Man U side that was defending a lead and result that would have vaulted them to third place.

The underlying question, assuming that Theo does get his first Prem start since the 3-0 win over West Ham in middle-March, is who plays behind him. For all of his pace and prowess in attack, he doesn't do much in defense. Does this mean that we'll see Mathieu Debuchy in place of Bellerín? Debuchy is available, after all, and his defensive guile and tenacity should be enough to deny Sunderland any chances down our right side, freeing Theo to run rampant.

We have a chance to claim a third-place finish with a win (maybe even with a draw). Winning in fashion on Wednesday would warn Man City that we mean business—and what better way to send a signal of intent than for Theo to again puntcure Pantilimon?

What do you think? Can Theo remind us of the kind of form he showed a year ago? Share your thoughts in the comments-section below, and spread the word via twitter, reddit, or facebook as well. Thanks, as always, for your visit!