Our striking options are looking a tad threadbare.
That’s for the opening weekend fixture against Liverpool, at any rate, when three of our four recognised and experienced strikers are likely to be unavailable.
As we’re all too well aware, Danny Welbeck is out for the long term and Alexis has a nasty looking ankle injury as a legacy from his Copa America involvement. Throw in Olivier Giroud’s extended break following France’s European exploits, and it leaves just one person to be the main man.
Now, admittedly Arsenal have a whopping nine official forwards on the dotcom site – you can’t help but feel there’s a bit of a PR exercise going on when Gnabry, Campbell and best of all Iwobi are listed as “forwards” – but realistically there are only four main contenders.
Ignoring the three aforementioned players who are widemen or auxiliary forwards at best, the other out and out frontmen listed are Chuba Akpom and the lesser spotted Yaya Sanogo.
The Frenchman has been farmed it on loan a number of times in the past few seasons, and most recently made four appearances for Ajax before moving to Charlton, where his eight appearances were simply stepping stones en route to the Addicks’ relegation. Impressive stuff.
Meanwhile, Chuba Akpom has been playing his trade under Steve Bruce up at the KC. At least he managed to secure a place for a full season in a decent Hull team which managed promotion via the play-offs. Certainly at the age of 20 he has a good three years on Sanogo, but seven goals in 22 starts and seven sub appearances away from the top tier isn’t going to strike fear into the hearts of any top side. After all, even Nicklas Bendtner posted good numbers in the second tier…
Which brings me back to the main point: come Sunday 14th August, we’re likely to have just one realistic option to start up top. Enter Mr. Walcott.
It’s undeniable that his form has been patchy at best since he opened the scoring at Wembley last May (Remember that? Feels like a lifetime ago!).
It’s easy to forget that he didn’t have a bad start to the season, with a five-game streak in the autumn somewhat impressive, bearing two goals and three assists including lively performances against both Manchester United and Leicester.
Another ten game streak from December 9th to January 17th saw Walcott contribute over a festive period where we won six of seven, before the combination of the Coq-zorla epidemic and the festive pressure on our depleted midfield took its toll.
The team capitulated, just as Walcott’s form hit the toilet, and that simply manifested in an epic vicious circle.
‘TJ’ needed a chance to play himself into form, but the team wasn’t playing well enough – and more pertinently, getting good enough results – to afford him sufficient time to do so.
From January 17th onwards, Theo didn’t start two consecutive games.
Just ask your local Chelsea fan – that same vicious circle is more than a bit like the scenario that made Eden Hazard look a shadow of the previous year’s Player of the Season.
No, throw in the part where after that January 17th nadir, Walcott didn’t start two consecutive games for the entire remainder of the season, and you start to get a picture of how he lost out to the likes of Andros Townsend by the time England’s Euros squad was announced.
It’s little wonder he struggled, if indeed four goals and an assist in three starts and a collection of 10-minute sub appearances (equating to less than two full games) can be considered struggling.
Perhaps one positive to take out of Walcott’s season was the way he stayed fit – 23 starts and 21 sub appearances is right up there in terms of availability – and he still returned much better numbers than Chuba Akpom, despite his acknowledged terrible form and playing in a much higher standard league.
However, the fact that I’m comparing his numbers to Akpom perhaps underlines quite how low he has sunk in Arsenal fans’ opinions.
It’s hard to look past this being Theo’s last chance saloon.
I’m a huge Walcott fan, but even I’m getting to the point where it’s pretty hard to defend him.
I have sympathy in the way he’s been utilised – you only have to look at Vardy to see how a one trick pony can flourish beyond measure. It requires you to play to their strengths, in the right setup, and it requires them to be very good at their one trick, but if Walcott is anything, he’s lightning fast and an excellent finisher.
That’s partly why I was so excited to see us sign Granit Xhaka – a player with an eye for an early, long and accurate pass – who is surely the ideal deep lying midfielder to complement Theo. It’s hard to remember a time in recent seasons, other than against the Champions League elite, when we’ve approached a game successfully with a quick fire counterattack strategy.
But even I’m losing patience, and with the rest of our striking options sidelined or inappropriate for the curtain raiser, I can’t help but think Walcott needs to channel his inner Martine McCutcheon, and croon: “this is my moment, this is my perfect moment.”