News has come from the club that Giroud may have picked up a knee injury following the 3-1 victory over Sunderland at the weekend. With a lack of striker options, Wenger has suggested that Walcott is the ‘obvious solution’. Without going into the ‘what if’s’ and ‘should have’s’ of the transfer window, it seems that we are in a bit of a bind.
We are currently on a 5 game unbeaten run due in no small part to our superb French centre forward. We have based our game on quick movement and passing with Giroud holding the ball up, looking for the lay off to the on rushing man or, as seen on Saturday, slipping a ball through the defence. His hold up play has been fantastic and his finishing excellent. Whilst last year he was more than satisfactory, this year has seen a real step up in quality and confidence. He seems to have a great understanding with his team mates and is clearly enjoying his football at the moment. That’s why his injury is all the more worrying. The team has clearly got used to playing with the strong centre forward, whose strength is not merely his physicality but his ability to pass, hold up play, bring others into play and make smart runs, not to mention his added height defending corners and set pieces.
So how will the team adapt with Theo leading the line opposed to Giroud? I don’t think you could have picked two more disparate players to play at centre forward; Theo’s strengths are obviously his pace and his finishing and whilst he may have played at centre forward last year I believe this was due to his contract status than any real inspiring performances. I do like Theo in the team as I think he offers us a direct outlet on the right flank, someone who can finish off moves and stretch the opposition but this is on the right flank, away from the direct attention of the two centre backs. Without critiquing his entire game, Theo does not possess the vision; hold up play or intelligence to really affect the game as a centre forward. His passes are not incisive due to the fact that unless he is in a good position to cross the ball he normally tries to retain possession by passing back to Sagna or one of our midfielders, something I’m sure he has been instructed to do.
Despite my reservations though, who am I to say this won’t work? Whilst there is certainly evidence to suggest that Theo is more suitable playing out wide, our midfield unit are in great form at the moment and in Mesut Özil we have a player who can unlock the most miserable of defences. If Walcott at centre forward is to work, it will not be down to his hold up play or his vision; it will be his pace as he hangs off the last defender waiting for Özil to unleash him at the right moment.
When Walcott first came to Arsenal, many excitedly exclaimed that with his pace, he could replicate Henry’s style of play; this comparison has long since been disproved with Walcott not having the intelligence or skill that Henry had. However, one must not forget that Henry’s success was aided by his partnership with a particularly handy Dutch centre forward, who often dropped deep and supplied Henry with beautifully weighted through balls. Walcott never had the chance to play alongside a striker of Bergkamp’s style and quality, someone who dropped deep and looked to pass in behind the defence, someone with the ability to utilise his pace. Sure there was Fabregas for a time, but Walcott’s career was in its infancy, he was still learning his trade on the wing and perhaps, most significantly, Walcott’s clinical finishing has only truly come to fruition in the last year, Sunderland performance aside. In Özil, whilst not a striker, we have that player who could utilise Theo’s pace and destroy teams on the counter.
It’s long been argued that Arsenal needed a plan B; when their passing style of play was met by two stubborn banks of four many would have you believe that it was a target man we needed, an oaf of a centre forward to push and shove defenders and meet crosses with his head, but mayhaps it was a playmaker with the vision to unleash one of the fastest players in the world. Giroud’s injury, along with the 42 million pounds spent on a German playmaker, may have just provided us with our plan B, in the form of Theo Walcott