The season before last, Theo Walcott was Arsenal’s top scorer with 14 goals in 32 games.
Last season, he scored five goals in 13 games before a nasty knee injury ended his season.
This year he has scored two goals in seven appearances despite starting only twice.
So why is one of, if not our most clinical players warming the bench now that he is back to full fitness?
It seems less and less likely that he will feature at United in the FA Cup next week, if he can’t make the starting lineup for QPR.
Wednesday evening’s game seemed like the perfect opportunity to give him a run out, given QPR’s position and an abundance of creative players to pick out any runs he cares to make.
Instead, both Cazorla and Alexis were picked for yet another game.
Does it make any sense?
Walcott’s previous contractual complications were well documented, with the club somewhat over a barrel given the regular and recent departures of other senior players. With just a two year extension ultimately agreed, we again find ourselves in a position where we need to sign him up or cash in.
It’s possible that by not picking him, Arsene is laying out that Walcott’s negotiating position is no longer as strong with the likes of Alexis, Welbeck and the Ox now able to do a job in wide positions. It doesn’t seem very much like Wenger though, given that he has been prepared to trust players to play even in the last months of their contract (e.g. Sagna and Fabianski).
Another potential reason for the England forward’s omission is his propensity for injury. As our squad depth has increased, Arsene has shown a greater willingness to ease in players who have shown signs of injury, particularly the likes of Ramsey and Rosicky. With Walcott’s game so orientated around speed and reactions, and the impact he can have on the team when firing on all cylinders, it’s understandable that he would want to get Theo back in gently.
That doesn’t really explain why he didn’t start against QPR though – he didn’t feature at the weekend or Crystal Palace and only played 30 minutes against Monaco. It’s not as if he bust a gut in that game either.
Which brings me on to…
Theo’s level of effort is thrown into stark contrast against the likes of the Ox, Alexis and Welbeck. He’s the classic player who likes to expend all his energy when the ball is moving towards the opposition goal, rather than use it up on defending – another reason you would expect a game against QPR to be one of his more likely starts in reality!
In some games, there’s no doubt that Theo is the very definition of a luxury player. His work rate up in a forward direction can also be poor, as we saw against Monaco and also against Boro to a certain extent. I’m prepared to extend a bit more sympathy on the attacking side, insofar as I’ve watched Walcott make run after run in some games to be completely ignored – however, if he doesn’t make the runs and show his teammates where he wants the ball, it’s much harder for them to find him.
This is a difficult one – Theo is clearly suffering from low confidence at the moment, preferring to drop short and pass the ball onto others rather than doing what he does best – making great runs and trusting others to pick him out so he can apply his usually clinical finishing.
Arsene has shown a keenness to bring his forward on in games which are all but won in an attempt to give him a chance to play with a bit more freedom and try to find his confidence – and his form – again.
It seems unlikely then that he will play against United on Monday night unless Arsenal are either well ahead already or in desperate need of a goal. With United playing shockingly, I know which scenario I think is more likely…!
With a number of players being run into the ground at the moment, Arsene needs to bite the bullet and give Walcott a shot – he’s our most prolific forward when he gets a run of games and he also produces in the big matches.
Getting him back on song has to be a priority to give us the best chance of making this a successful season.
March holds our marginally easier fixtures compared to an April bringing Liverpool and Chelsea. So get him in now, Arsene, before it is forced on us by injuries to overplayed players, and maybe we’ll just reap the benefits.