Monday, 22 February 2010

Take the Walcott Gamble

At the risk of setting light to my own funeral pyre a few years too early, I will (perhaps stupidly) stick my neck above the parapet again.

As 1979 posted in the week, an Arsenal first XI would be a very different looking beast to the team that played against Porto and Sunderland. However, I am not aware of Arsenal putting out the "first XI" at any stage over recent years. There may have been the odd match, but nothing more than that. But the injury prone nature of our team is another topic of conversation. But what is apparent is that a club who wants to challenge at the very top of the game in recent years needs a big squad, and cannot often make the excuse about injuries. Arsenal's record on injuries is bad, but a lot of our competitors have problems as well. Infact, Sunderland were missing a lot of their first XI as well, and Sunderland are shite anyway. So I am not going to talk about injuries today.

Neither am I going to talk about what being a "real fan" means. The topics of discussion on this blog are not simply blind loyalty to the cause. If you are unable to speak in a normal and civilized way about the state of the Arsenal team, its pros and cons, the players who are doing well and those that are not, then look elsewhere. However, whilst we take a relatively circumspect view on how we are doing at the moment, this blog has no particular causes to campaign for. Asking questions like "Should we accept £30m for Cesc?" or "Is Wenger still the man for the job?" does not pre-suppose an answer. The idea is not that everyone will agree with us. Its not a popularity contest. But we would ask that you try and read what we say before launching into purile "you're not proper fan" tirades. However, if that is what you feel, then so be it. The world is full of morons. So congratulations.

Instead, I am going to speak about what we are doing up front at the moment. Because the goals have dried up for Arsenal in recent games - only 6 goals in our last 7 games, which is very different from the start of the season.

There are a number of factors, it was a tough run of games, and the injury to RVP is a massive factor. Nikki B was also missing for 3 months and used sparingly, and Eduardo seems unable to stay fit. But I said I wasn't going to speak about injuries. And fair enough, becuase there are plenty of other 'forwards' in the squad - Arshavin, Nasri, Vela, Rosicky and Theo.

And a lot of the forward play comes through Cesc, who has chiselled himself out a free role in the heart of midfield. Its a role that I don't think Wenger has bestowed on any other player. In many ways, the entire purpose of this 4-3-3 system seems to be to give Cesc that role.

Now whilst Cesc is having a good season, there is not much happening around him at the moment. Cesc played almost as a centre forward against Sunderland in the second half, and I think its great to see him getting in the box so much. But the rest of the forward line is full of potential, but otherwise its ifs, buts and maybes, with not a great deal of final product at the moment.

However, I think it will come. We did a lot of good stuff down the right against Sunderland. The threat of Theo's pace opens the game up in a way that Nasri, Arshavin, Rosicky etc rarely offer. A couple of games with Theo on the right and Nikki B in the middle will lead to more goals, I am quite sure of if. Give them at least 2 or 3 more games before making any judgments. But one of our problems at the moment is that we almost never put the same XI out twice, let alone for 3 or 4 games. I sincerely hope that Theo now gets a run in the team - lets see. Eboue should also keep his place. The Ivorian Mystery Man was terrific on Saturday.

But it will be difficult for Wenger to resist the temptation to rotate the players again, and you would expect a fit Diaby to play ahead of Ramsey, but will he also want to find a spot for Rosicky? I suspect he will, but like Nasri, Rosicky does not like getting much chalk on his boots and loves to come inside. The temptation might therefore be to go for a front line of Nasri, Bendnter and Rosicky, which could work just fine, but I really think Theo Walcott has the ounce of magic that is worth a gamble.

Theo's instinct is to look at the space beyond the back line, whereas Nasri, Rosicky and Bendtner like the ball to their feet, usually in front of the back-line. Now whilst it would help if Nikki B looked to stay on the shoulder of the centre-backs more often, Theo's movement gives an option that the rest don't really offer.

Ljungberg used to move beautifully along the back line waiting for Bergkamp to slide one through. Theo is not as composed on the ball as Freddie, but if Theo continue to make the runs then Cesc can play the passes. With the added trickery that Eboue throws in, its a thought that would scare the daylights out of most back lines.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Walcott from the start or as an impact sub 2nd half is the way to go.

ReZnuK said...

Theo has pace sure, and that can trouble a (poor) defense like Sunderland, however any reasonable defense deals with it easily by thinking ahead and positioning, as has been proved whenever he's played this season. Add to that his seeming inability to look up before firing a ball in, gives him the air of one for whom the the match is a kind of distraction and not the point. I'm NOT saying Theo out, or anything quite so crass. I can see potential in the lad, but at the moment, the Walcott Gamble means someone else would have to lose their starting place, and I would contend that there are better thinking players out there, including Nasri and Rosicky. I'd rather see them making intelligent passes in when they can, than wild blasts over the line by Theo when he tries to deliver too quickly.

To be fair to him, apart from the future promise he shows, I suspect he's trying a little too hard to show he can do it, probably knowing he hasn't got much time left to impress Cappello. There is (as Arsene said today) a lot of pressure on him, but pressure doesn't excuse careless play - not for (highly paid) professionals.

Whilst his runs give you cause to see the potential, what promising positions or chances did he deliver on Saturday? Versus Eboue, who doesn't run as quickly but runs far more effectively at defenses, Theo doesn't measure up, yet.

1979gooner said...

Well said.

I do think we have lost a bit of pace in the last few years.

Theo and Eboue gave us a bit more of it on saturday for sure.

Cesc is never as effective when playing too far up the pitch in my opinion.

Theo is looking better each game, not that he started brilliantly, but I'd say his progress is adequate at the moment, if he stays fit he'll do well.

Ted said...

Thanks for the comments. I agree that Theo has real potential as an impact sub.

RenKuk - I think you make several good points. For me, the best we have looked all season þis Eboue right wing, possibly with Sagna behind.But my gamble is on the ultra attacking Eboue/Walcott partnership. Its got bags of potential.

Sagna has done ok,but I think Wenger knows that Eboue is better going forwards, his strengths come running from from deep, rather than running onto it from midfield.

I really like Eboue. Its just a question of where.

The Walcott Gamble probably depends on Eboue at right back, or Sagna reigniting his form.but you could argue that Eboue is a better footballer than Walcott, and the Sagna/Eboue combination is best.

But you would be wrong! Maybe.

Drew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Drew said...

I think it doesn't matter who plays at right wing, as long as Eboue plays at right back.

You see teams like Inter and watch how solid they are not only going forward, but defensively as well. It's because they have an incredible attacking threat at the full back positions and most importantly in Maicon. Wenger likes preach "defend from the front."

With Eboue, the team has that ability. When Clichy was in form earlier in his Arsenal career, the same principles applied. Especially with Song in such great form and offering cover, Eboue at right back is a great option.

Assuming Arshavin is on the left to get in behind or take defenders on, I would play Rosicky on the right wing because he is more apt to cover than Nasri/Walcott. He also is a better playmaker/crosser than either of those two.

1979gooner said...

eboue is not great at right midfield, he is a far far better player at right back

Ted said...

Drew, I think 1979 is right, Eboue is terrific going forwards from right back, but is not the worlds best defender and has struggled last season at right wing. That said, I think he can do a job right side in a 4-3-3.

But the point of my post is that Theo offers something different. Give the lad a couple of games and I think he will begin to produce from that position in a way that no-one else can.

Obsinho said...

Think I may have missed the angry boat a bit, but just to say that anyone who claims anyone else is not a "proper fan" should be taken out and shot in the nuts.

That is all.