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It's Going To Be A Big Season For....Part 2

It seems not a summer goes by without Arsenal fans ruminating over what might become of Theo Walcott in the ensuing season. Amazingly Theo has been an Arsenal player for three and a half years now and is about to begin his fourth full campaign as a first team player. Yet he is still only 20. Walcott has been a player that has flirted with the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure, equally capable of cutting defences to ribbons with a sixty yard saunter as he is tripping over the ball under no pressure. For Walcott, shoulder injuries disrupted his progress. The sixty yard run at Anfield in April 2008 was supposed to be Walcott`s grand arrival- his Hendrix playing the star spangled banner at Woodstock, his James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. The focus shifted in September from N5 and expanded nationwide overnight like so many Starbucks when he bagged himself a hat trick for England in Zagreb. Yet further problems with his shoulders elucidated his slight frame and enervated his progress with three months on the sidelines.

This season, the water wings really need to come off. Walcott is edging further and further away from the envelope marked 'potential`, the time has come to cut the apron strings. Walcott has shown on a plethora of occasions that he has the quality to swing games in our favour in individual moments- however, consistency must now be a keen bedfellow to ally to his still all too rough around the edges displays. Firstly, he has to learn how to control the ball much better and be at ease with it at his feet. All too often Walcott lacks composure, believing that every time he receives possession he must slalom past every defender and make a beeline for goal. At times, when the ball reaches his feet, it looks as though a mole has briefly popped out of the ground milliseconds before it comes to him. I often think Walcott`s legs are much too quick for his brain. His ball retention is not what a team like Arsenal requires on the right hand side of midfield, especially when compared to his predecessor in the possession Alex Hleb-who did not seem to understand that surrendering possession of a football was not against the laws of physics. I think Walcott`s presence on the right last season was a more accurate explanation for Fabregas bombing forward less than the old "defensive midfielder" nutshell so often trotted out ad nauseam.

That said, Walcott has the ability to be a pocket dynamo. Witness the assist at Ewood Park for van Persie followed one week later at the Reebok Stadium when he led the Bolton midfield a merry dance in the build up to Denilson`s clincher. Much like Bendtner, Walcott can infuriate and delight in equal measure, by virtue of his nationality Walcott gets an easier ride from supporters. However, supporters are fickle and there`s a new English queen on the scene, with younger perter breasts and doe eyes that set our loins a blaze. Jack Wilshere is already being hyped to the rafters; comparisons with Walcott are all the rage (anyone else notice how football fans are getting more and more like readers of heat magazine by the year?) and the poll results are in. Yep, Wilshere is better, sexier and writes better bass hooks apparently. Walcott may now have to content with the honeymoon period coming to an end as his sleeker cousin shuffles nonchalantly into the spotlight, Theo might have to put up with some backbiting and bitching as over simplified paradigms are drawn.

However, Walcott has an awful lot to offer-he just has to work on his technique slightly and convince us he is more than just a sprinter. Patrice Evra showed in the Champions League semi finals that closing Walcott down quickly and not leaving him space to collect the ball and get it out of his stride neuters his game. He needs to be smarter and more suave; he has improved his body strength and looks more comfortable with his back to goal, but if he can learn to pass the ball more intelligently and then move into space- pushing defences back, he could become quite a weapon. The new 4-3-3 system would seem to suit his strengths more than any other player I can think of. The talk of the summer has been that this year will see Walcott will be nudged forward into a striker role. Looking at the 4-3-3 that has been experimented with in pre season, Theo will take up the wide right berth of the front three. With van Persie spearheading and Arshavin supplying the bullets to his left, the Gunners will not lack guile in the final third or ingenuity in the area. However, defending teams might look at van Persie`s lack of pace in behind defenders and look to squeeze Arsenal up with a high line.

This is where Walcott comes in. The prospect of his pace over the top should teams be tempted to try and make Arshavin and van Persie do their dirty work in the centre circle should either frighten defences into retreat or leave them open to punishment, as I do not honestly think there is a defender in the Premiership who could live with Theo for pace. Particularly if that defender has to turn back and run towards his own goal. This could go some way to enervating Evra`s tactic of squeezing Theo up, with players like Andrey and Robin equally capable of a dinked ball over the top into space, opposing backlines would be unwise to play a high line. Theo will still have to work on his defensive discipline, his awareness off the ball and his tracking back are still some way short. But I`ve no doubt that Arsene has worked tirelessly on making Theo`s off the ball runs sharper so that he can push defences back and free up some space for van Persie and Arshavin. Arsenal began to become too reliant on using Adebayor as a battering ram (perhaps no coincidence that the chief protagonist of the hopeful sixty yard ball to Adebayor has packed his bindle and joined Ade at the circus). Fabregas, Arshavin and van Persie can restore Arsenal to a side that passes and moves to great effect in the final third again and Walcott has the raw materials to be the ace up the sleeve and the apple in the eye of the aforementioned. But Walcott must iron out the small technical deficiencies in his game to really assume the mantle. At 20, he is a rare mixture of youth and experience, the opportunity awaits him. Will he slalom gracefully after it or trip over his own feet chasing it? Therein lies the question that 2009-10 will go some way to revealing.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Tuesday August 11 2009

Time: 9:14PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
Nicely put LD. I'm not much of a Walcott fan, but I agree that the prospect of him in the 4-3-3 with RvP and Arsh feeding him is just mouthwatering - as long as we can find a way to supply Arsh and RvP. Similarly to Diaby though, I really don't think Theo has much of a footballing brain. He knows how to beat his man if he has some momentum, he can play the odd one to and put the ball into the box, but I've seen little else from him on the pitch. He doesn't need to be Bergkamp, but having a few more strings to his bow might be nice. I agree with what you say though, getting some body strength and improving the timing of his runs would go a long way to improving him as a player. He'd still be one dimensional, but at least that dimension would function more consistently.
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11/08/2009 22:12:00

Just wanted to compliment you on your excellent articles, the last two as such examples. In a sea of newsnow transfer hysteria and less than mediocre arsenal blogs, your articles remain insightful, balanced and concerned with the things that for me are worth discussing. So sick of reading the same blogs continuously covering the same old ground; who wenger should buy/sell, how much he has/hasn't to spend etc... so cheers LD and here's to a fantastic season, hopefullly!
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11/08/2009 22:29:00

I'd be tempted to be offended by that third paragraph LD if my own comparisson was more simplistic :) good article though, and you do get the feeling that if Theo can't thrive on the wide right position of a 4-3-3, a position that seems to suit him perfectly, then he may struggle to find a future at Arsenal as more than a bit player or impact sub.
Ozi Gooner
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12/08/2009 03:26:00

Great article. I agree re the new system - perfectly suited to Theo and Arsenal. Didn't think he was unimpressive last year though. I had earmarked last year as Theo's, and following his performance in Zagreb - you could have been excused for thinking it was all going to happen for him. Even when he came back from injury, his impact on the team cannot be questioned - creating space, scoring an important goal. No doubt, he needs to improve in areas, but his performances last year should be remembered as impressive IMO, if too sporadic. If he can make the same leap this year as he did last year (injury excluded), then he could be regarded as a valuable first team member - probably all that should be asked of a 20 year old (Fabregas being the exception).
Report Abuse
12/08/2009 06:32:00

I actually didn't consider that Ozi, now you mention it I can see what you mean! Whereas your article was to do with their development (which has kind of already happened and therefore can be commented on) I was thinking of a feature I saw on SSN last week where people were already deciding who the better player will be. Even Stewart Robson, who I've a great amount of respect for, made disappointing soundbite comments surrounding this comparison. Wilshere looks excellent and our academy can be very pleased with the work they've done, but the next test for him is mental and that's a test he will have to face alone. GG, I'm just as bored of reading that stuff as you are, I've said it here many times before, transfer tittle tattle just doesn't float my boat. Particularly as I don't have a scouting network set up myself, so I don't really think I've got the credentials to suggest who we should sign.
Little Dutch
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12/08/2009 08:22:00

Don't worry LD, was just joking mate. I've followed your lead this summer and decided not to read any transfer news I can avoid, I can tell you now I feel a lot more sane for it.
Ozi Gooner
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12/08/2009 08:52:00

Great point LD and Ozi, I too have ignored reading any transfer news this summer. I shall be taking my seat at Goodison Park on saturday with my Toure shirt, and I am gonna do Adebayor first goalscorer. The odds are tremendous.
Report Abuse
12/08/2009 09:41:00

I said 'can avoid' CR1, pretty hard to avoid that
Ozi Gooner
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12/08/2009 09:45:00

I was thinking of going for Senderos first goalscorer, I've heard there's a chance he might play in this game..........
Little Dutch
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12/08/2009 10:02:00

I want to see Theo ' loosen ' up a bit and relax with the ball. It's ok to come inside or pass it square Theo. You don't have to hug the touchline and wait, just come and get the ball, be more forceful. We know that you can destroy defenders with your pace, we just want to see you do the ' basics ' a little better.
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12/08/2009 12:01:00

rofl, little bit of innuendo
Ozi Gooner
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12/08/2009 12:04:00

I still read the transfer news. I just don't take it too seriously. With nothing much else coming out of the club, I can't just stop hearing the word 'Arsenal' for months. All you need is a pinch of salt, or sometimes a truck-full...
Report Abuse
12/08/2009 15:58:00

Find him a position that totally suits his strengths and he could be lethal due to his pace and growing maturity in his decision making and finishing, but if he is out of position, the boy looks ruuuubish.
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12/08/2009 17:04:00

Spot on LD. The biggest concern is the lack of footballing intelligence, and I fear that it cannot be taught (I hope I'mm wrong). Players like Denilson make better decisions than Theo (roughly the same age) but I suppose that has to do with the whole education process. Theo needs to learn quickly, his flaws are obvious and I hope that Wenger can give him some good advice.
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12/08/2009 22:02:00

It's wierd that at 20 years old he's moving out of the "potential" stage. Makes me feel disgustingly old at 23. Valid points though LD. With good coaching Theo still has it in him to be deadly to defences around the country, and with the calibre of players we have supporting him then we should be no problem being one of the best attacking forces in the world. Though where does Eduardo fit into this equasion? Starting XI or super-sub? Personally i'd be starting Eduardo as the spearhead with RVP and Arsh on either side.
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13/08/2009 02:46:00


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