Arsene Wenger confirmed on Monday that Walcott has suffered a setback in his return from injury and will be out for yet another two weeks. This kind of luck, or lack of it, is becoming quite typical for the gunners whenever a player seems like he may be on the brink of return.
However, in the current set of circumstances it’s not quite as disastrous as it may usually have been. Even with Podolski, Chamberlain and Diaby all serving long sentences on the sidelines (and with Flamini also missing in the short-term) Arsenal have an impressive look of depth to their squad that has gone missing in years past. In fact, the case can even be made that it would be better if Walcott were not to return to the squad just yet because the current set of players are in such good form and in such perfect harmony.
Wenger confirmed the absence of Walcott while speaking ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League clash with Dortmund.
“He had a setback on Thursday. He had to stop, to jog again. I don’t think we will see him against Dortmund nor Crystal Palace nor Chelsea. He is at least two weeks away now.”
Is Walcott Actually Being Missed?
Crazy as it may be to suggest, do Arsenal really need and want Walcott back as fast as possible? Well of course it will be nothing but beneficial to have him available for selection, but is it desirable for him to be thrown straight back into the starting XI or will this mess with something that doesn’t need fixing?
During his absence the right wing/attacking midfield position has been covered by a combination of Ozil, Wilshere, Rosicky and Ramsey in what was a fluid system that didn’t restrict any of them to staying on the right. Indeed this coordination in midfield has yielded impressive results, and Arsenal have continued their winning spree with some of the best football that they, or anyone else in the Premier League, have played in years.
Of course Ozil has been the most creative with 19 chances created over the season. Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla and Rosicky have then produced 12, 11, 10 and 9 chances respectively. If Walcott were to come straight back into the starting team then it would likely be Wilshere and Ramsey who drop deeper in the formation to accommodate him, with Rosicky dropping to the bench.
Should Arsenal fans want this? Walcott had created 9 chances before his injury, less than either of Wilshere or Ramsey, but with a chance created every 40 minutes he was making them more frequently on average than them (Wilshere every 49 minutes and Ramsey every 59 minutes). So statistically speaking he would be bringing more creativity to Arsenal’s attacking midfield upon his return.
If Arsenal were to then play with a front three of Carzola, Ozil and Walcott, a brand new headache would be created: that Flamini, Wilshere, Arteta and Ramsey will be fighting for only two central midfield positions. It may be one of those good kinds of headaches – woes me, I have too many good players – but the problem is difficult enough to bring into question whether they should stop playing further up the pitch in order to accommodate Walcott at all.
What does Walcott uniquely provide?
In short, pace and direct play.
It is no secret that Walcott takes advantage of his astounding acceleration to overwhelm the opposition, and it is something that every team will prepare for in the week beforehand. Furthermore, by playing in a wider position than anyone else in the squad Walcott is capable of opening up space in attack for other players, as well as getting around the back of the defence himself. Even with his time off with injury he has provided the most crosses in the team (26) which is down to his ability to get in behind the defence in a wide position, and this is partly responsible for him creating a chance every 40 minutes. Only Ozil (19), Carzorla (28) and Rosicky (33) have done better in Arsenal’s midfield.
Along with his creativity and ability to stretch the opposition, there is also the fact that he provides a very direct goal threat. Indeed, in 2012/13 he was Arsenal’s top league scorer with 14 goals, and although he may not have scored yet this year his frequent shooting (every 36 minutes) with an accuracy of 70% is sure to produce goals over the course of the season. Of course Arsenal have Ramsey providing the midfield goal threat at the moment with his 5 goals from 31 shots, but Walcott’s introduction doesn’t have to put an end to this. Moreover Walcott is a more distinct kind of player in what he offers than any other individual in that midfield.
Who plays after Walcott’s return?
Most would argue that the strongest attacking three to be deployed behind Giroud are Cazorla, Ozil and Walcott. They are individually the strongest in those positions, just about, but what is most attractive about that combination is that it is the most balanced. This is largely down to Walcott’s presence as it assures that all three players are not too similar. Rosicky is then left to compete for a place, while there are four players fighting for two places in midfield.
Whatever happens, more than one very good player will be on the bench every week, so nobody should complain when this eventually comes to be. Furthermore the situation will allow and necessitate a great deal of rotation. It is arguably impossible to say outright who will or should play. Each player is in fine form. Upon Walcott’s return four players will be competing for three positions in attacking midfield, and another four for two positions in central midfield. This is before you even begin to add Podolski, Chamberlain and Diaby into the equation.
Who shall start in each game will depend on the opponents and on the tactics of Arsene Wenger. In truth there isn’t a starting XI that is significantly weaker in quality than any other, which is why Arsenal have not really been hurting in Walcott’s absence.