Over the years, Theo Walcott has been much derided by Arsenal fans, England fans and the media. Brilliant one game, anonymous the next. Despite last season being our top scorer with 21 goals, and also adding 14 assists, many still question his place in the side.
It is often said you only realise what a player contributes to the team in general when he does not play. A lot of people underrated Gilberto Silva massively during his early years at the club. It was only during a 7 month lay off with a broken back during the 2004-05 season that many realised how important the invisible wall was to the teams make up.
We saw in the 1-1 draw against WBA how much we missed Theo Walcott. Back in the middle of September, I posted about how Arsenal were playing like a Brazilian side with their new 4231 formation, and how this formation was heavily reliant on having a player with pace on one side. We saw against WBA how when you take this pace away, the side becomes too narrow and does not break the line of the defenders enough.
The WBA game was probably our worst attacking performance of the season. With Wilshere and Ramsey out wide, but both drifting in, we often ended up with all 5 midfielder’s in the middle of the park. No width and more importantly, no pace.
A few instances spring to mind where we desperately missed Walcott. The first was a break away from a corner. Normally whoever brings the ball out looks first for Walcott. With his electric pace, he is key to our counter attacking. Unfortunately, without Walcott, we had no other pace options. Mesut Ozil had the ball and he had a choice between Giroud or Ramsey going forward. He played a good ball to Ramsey, but he had to check in side and by the time he did this, the WBA players were back in droves and the chance was gone. Had Walcott been on the pitch, I am sure we would have seen him rampage down the right before playing the ball into Giroud or Ramsey for a tap in.
The second scenario happened a few times. Often Theo Walcott is a cross field out ball. When play is tight down one win, he is usually in acres of space on the other, allowing us to switch the play and exploit this pace. Unfortunately, without Walcott there, that space went unexploited. Jenkinson tried to push into it, but did not get far enough forward. This meant that play often became to congested and then break down on the other side of the pitch.
Theo Walcott also creates space for others. He often gets ‘chalk on his boots’ which widens the pitch, and his dangerous play usually results in teams having to use their full back, and either a centre back or winger, to close him down. This then gives more space to either his full back, or the midfielder’s. Too often, we were easily closed down against West Brom, as they pushed us into a congested middle, we were unable to create space for ourselves. Had Theo Walcott been playing, this would not of happened.
Yes, Lukas Podolski or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have also made a difference. Their pace on the wings would have supplied a similar threat to that of Walcott, however Walcott has shown himself in the Premier League to be the better performer of the 3 and we missed him.
With the International break now upon us, we have 2 weeks for Walcott to get fit. I am sure he will play in our next game, and we will be back to our swashbucking best.
The fact we managed to get a point out of a tough game with the amount of injuries we currently have (Sagna, Diaby, Walcott, Chamberlain, Podolski, Cazorla, Sanogo) is testament to both our squad depth and current mental strength. As players start to return, we should begin to see just how good this Arsenal side are, and if we are truly title contenders.