Theo Walcott must start against Chelsea; of that there is no doubt.
On this week’s Daily Cannon podcast, Stephen and Matthew had quite an entertaining debate as to which of our strikers should lead the line at the weekend, with Stephen maintaining that Chelsea’s physicality would make it a game for Giroud and Matthew backing Walcott’s talents for the exact same reason.
It seemed to me that Walcott was a no brainer to play, the only question was whether it was wide or centrally. After last night, pretty much everyone in Gooner fandom is likely to agree they would prefer him through the middle over Giroud, but if we put the emotion aside for a moment, there are a couple of reasons why Theo simply has to play up front at the weekend.
A New World Record
Rational or not, some players just have a hold over certain opposition – we’re certainly all too aware of Didier Drogba’s goalscoring exploits against us – but Walcott is well on the way to setting a new individual record for strikes against the Blues.
He’s one of those players who tends to perform better against the big sides (unlike Wayne Rooney) and with five career goals against Chelsea already at just 26, we sit here more in expectation than hope that he will hit the back of the net again on Saturday. There’s something about his attributes and those the Chelsea defence are lacking which makes him extra effective against them. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is though…
Pace inspires terror
Oh I remember now – he’s Fast (As in, the definition of. E.g. That car is seriously Walcott).
Chelsea, 4-0 romp over Maccabi Tel-Aviv or not, are struggling for a bit of form at both ends of the pitch, and the confidence that usually surges through their squad looks to be a little lacking. In these kind of circumstances, they are likely to drop deep and play for the draw in expectation that we will lose patience, become reckless and gift them a goal.
They are also a team of huge bruising men, used to bullying the most powerful strikers in the Premier League, and the size and strength of Giroud is unlikely to faze them. On the other hand, there is not much pace at all in their backline, Azpilicueta aside, and the thought of Theo Walcott tearing through them will fill a number of those players with fear. And fear breeds mistakes.
Practice makes perfect
There’s one other factor too. Ian Wright made the point on Match of the Day, and it’s become something of a cult now, that some of the Arsenal midfield are not yet picking out Theo’s runs as they could. And it’s spot on.
I wrote back in January about how the prospect of Ozil and Walcott playing together for a consistent run of games filled me with excitement, and to a certain extent we’ve still yet to see that partnership truly blossom. Theo’s goal against Stoke was an example of what could be in that respect.
Matthew also spoke on Monday about the last time Arsenal’s midfield had pace to service potentially being back in the early days of Adebayor’s Arsenal career, when the likes of Fabregas were able to pick him out with ease after years of playing with Henry and his runs.
Certainly it was a source of much frustration over the last two years that whether playing centrally or wide, Theo’s runs beyond were ignored in favour of lateral passing; indeed, Bacary Sagna was a particular culprit when playing behind the Englishman.
In Oxlade-Chamberlain’s disastrous game against West Ham, one of the few positives I took was that he had still tried to get the ball beyond to Theo a couple of times (giving up after one such attempt was so poorly executed that it almost led to a West Ham goal). The more we attempt those passes, the better we’ll get at finding Walcott.
Now I’m not suggesting we treat the Chelsea game as a practice match – far from it – but with each passing game our ability to pick out Theo will improve, and we’ve already seen promising signs from the last few games. And once he’s beyond the last defender, there’s no one in the league who’ll be catching him, least of all an elderly and fragile Chelsea defence.
Over to you Arsene.