Yaya Sanogo is a not a name that many will be familiar...
How do you solve a problem like Theo?
I’ve watched with amusement at the furor over Theo Walcott’s comments this week. What comments you ask? Have you been living in a bubble? Well, just in case you missed them here they are:
“Thierry [Henry] joined the club when he was 22 and I want to become an Arsenal legend like him, playing up front as well, which is a big factor me. I’ve played a lot on the right and had the opportunity to play up front a bit so I think it’s about time.” (from ESPN interview)
“I wouldn’t say so. I feel like I justified what I can do last season. I set up a lot of Robin’s goals, scored 11 for a winger, previously scoring 13 the year before that and that was as a winger. Now the next step is to play up front – the manager has promised me that I will play up front and I’m sure it will happen now.” (from Sun Q&A when asked if it was more difficult for him to get into the squad)
“I’ve learnt not just from Thierry but from some of the best strikers around – Dennis Bergkamp, Robin. I was signed as a striker and I know what I can do up front. I can definitely do more as a striker. It’s just waiting for that chance to come which I’m hopeful will happen soon.” (from Sun Q&A when asked if he saw his future as a striker or winger)
“Of course. It’s always frustrating not getting to play, particularly when you don’t get to play in your position. I’ve learnt my trade as a winger. Thierry broke into the team at 22 and started off on the wing and made it as a striker aged 23, 24. So hopefully fans will see me playing up front soon” (from the Sun Q&A when asked if he was disappointed he hasn’t played more as a striker)
The eruption of righteous indignation that Theo could be as brazen as to talk to the press about his situation was predictable and very loud. When I took to twitter asking why Theo shouldn’t get a shot to play his position, the vitriol and caustic banter was not unexpected. And some of it was right down vile.
But all of it is understood. We as Arsenal supporters have been subjected to an endless parade of our star players leaving, year over year. And each time a player talks to the press it is picking at a wound that has not healed.
I still go back to my original question though – why shouldn’t we try Theo at his preferred position? Arguments are made every day that Andrei Arshavin would be better if he only played in his preferred position. Some of that shown in last night’s drubbing of Coventry City. So why shouldn’t Theo get the same opportunity for success.
In 2009, when he signed a new deal with Arsenal, Theo and the manager both came out in favor of Theo getting that chance. Here it is 3 years on and that has not yet materialized. Part of that has to be that the coaching staff (primarily Arsene) did not think he was ready.
I get that. As a coach I actually make sure all my kids who want to play strikers actually spend more time playing as winger. Playing on the wing keeps a young budding striker actively engaged in the game. They learn the concepts of always being switched on and in the game. They also learn that playing a position on a pitch is not just an offensive thing it’s a requirement to be defensively focused as well and it’s something learnt well on the wing.
And it’s something I want my young strikers to be able to do well. If we lose the ball deep in an opponent’s end, the first line of defense is the striker. If he can win the ball back down deep then the distance to goal is obviously less. One of the best at doing this is Falcao, who works so tirelessly in the opponents first third but not so much in his own defensive third.
One of the issues with Theo is his defensive play. It isn’t that great and starting Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho over him right now is better bet because they offer better defensive cover.
Now, I’ve simplified this analogy and there are obviously more other complex reasons why but simply look at it, Theo may not have been given a shot at striker yet because he hasn’t developed as an all around player that I think a true striker needs to be.
The thing is the idea that Theo has demanded to play the position seems ridiculous to me. In all the review of his comments, there is nothing that says he has to play there or he is off. The only thing I can think of that relates to that is his comments in the ESPN article saying he makes his contract decisions purely on football and football alone.
In this day and age of the greedy footballer this seems like a false statement to many jaded Arsenal fans. But this is one player whom it might actually be true for.
He isn’t a flashy player. You don’t see him sprawled all over the back pages. He, from all reports, enjoys a very quiet and well-grounded life away from the pitch. And this is something that needs to be nurtured as Ian Wright has hinted at:
“I hear so many people slagging off Premier League footballers for being bad role models, but Theo is a great asset to our game. He is a solid young man, articulate and never gets himself into trouble on or off the pitch. What more could you want from a guy in a high profile position? So I hope the Arsenal fans give him a bit of a break instead of getting on his back.”
Ian is another champion for Theo and playing in the striker role and if there is anyone who knows something or two about the role it’s Ian
“I love Theo and have been saying for a long time that he should be playing as a striker,”
“Clearly he is not the finished article and could do with some more work from the Arsenal coaches, but Theo has all the ingredients to be a top striker.
“Wenger has been saying for a long time that he sees Theo developing into a striker, so give the guy a chance to prove he can do it. If it doesn’t work, then fair enough, but give it has to be worth a try.”
Then there are common misperceptions about Theo – namely his ‘football intelligence.” Or as the press like to put it his lack footballing brains. If you were objectively assessing Theo you might notice that his big weaknesses are that His final product can be frustratingly inconsistent, whether crossing, finishing or passing, and he all too often runs with his head down and straight into opponents.
But the kid has the brains to play this game. Look at the comparison to his fellow wide players:
all stats courtesy of EPLIndex visit their site or follow them on twitter @EPLIndex
For the most part Theo is on par with or as good as his comparative set. His weak spot being crossing. But he is still getting assists (more than most) and goals (on par). The players that he is compared to are some of the most mentioned in the premier league for their ability. Ashley Young, in his Villa days seemed to be the one player some fans preferred to Walcott. Not sure I ever understood that.
You don’t become a professional player without having footballing intelligence. The days of that are gone. These aren’t the brutes of yore that Theo Lines up against every day, these are intelligent, strong, and powerful players; Theo has consistently gotten better and over time gets the better of the opposition. It’s no coincidence that Barca cited Theo as the player they most feared in Arsenal’s line up nor is it a coincidence that the pitch at the San Siro was so crappy. The dodgy pitch hindered the Gunners best assets, speed and skill down the wings.
Theo possesses the speed of a sprinter. Right now he actually offers a better impact for the Gunners coming off the bench. Defenses have to stay true to their system when Theo is on. His speed, dribbling, and movement make him a threat any time he gets the ball.
And his finishing in front of the goal gets better each year. All these are attributes of a strong striker.
The big problem with Theo and often where the criticism is derived from is his own success and the expectations of a nation and fan base that expect a lot from their bright talents. Having Theo named to the 2006 World Cup did him no favors. Because of that selection it was automatically assumed the player who signed for Arsenal at 16 from the Southampton academy would light the world on fire. As Ian Wright said further this is stupid and nothing this kid can do for anyone is good enough because of the expectations placed on him.
But players take their own time to develop. Even at his age. The worry would be if there was no sign of improvement in his game. We know that’s not the case as Theo continually gets better. It doesn’t all come together at once but the final pieces to his puzzle seem to be coming on. All that needs to happen now is for him to get his chance up front.
And really what is the problem with that? First, we’re short on options there right now anyway. Second, if Arsenal were to do it without putting down a new contract and it fails – then you let him go. If he succeeds maybe, just maybe he does become the next Thierry Henry.
Oh, about that – there were quite a few pieces that talked about Theo in negative terms based solely on his desire to be like Thierry Henry. One such article called him deluded. In each case those articles talked about Theo as if he WAS the next Thierry Henry.
The premise these blogs and articles took is misleading because that is not what Theo said nor what he was implying. He merely stated that his hope was that he could make the switch to striker and emulate his idol and become a legend like the man who wore 14 before him.
There is no fault in trying Theo up front. Personally, I’d like to see a little more muscle on him and I’d like to see some improvement in his defensive part of the game. But he does possess the other attributes that should make him a good striker for this team.