The 29-year-old might have grown stale at the Gunners, but how they long for someone with similar attributes to offer a ‘Plan B’ in Unai Emery’s squad
Theo Walcott returns to Emirates Stadium on Sunday to face his former team. The 29-year-old joined Everton in January following 12 years in north London, where he won three FA Cups and scored 108 goals in 397 appearances, but the decision to leave was made easier by the fact that he struggled to maintain a regular spot in the Arsenal XI coupled with then manager Arsene Wenger’s decision to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Walcott has since revealed that he grew disenchanted with the game as his time at Arsenal came to an end, and for someone who has already contributed two goals and an assist to Marco Silva’s side this season, the England man will this weekend be looking to exact some revenge on his old club for letting him go.
“I’m not going to lie, I fell out of love with football for a little bit. Because I had some good performances, but then just didn’t get the chance to play on,” Walcott said.
“Scoring over 100 goals for Arsenal is a great achievement for me personally, and then just the last year-and-a-half was tough, I can’t lie. It was really tough, not being able to get into the team, being in and out.
“I just felt I wanted to get the excitement of football again. I didn’t feel like it was going to be at Arsenal then.
“[Former Everton boss] Sam Allardyce at the time got in contact, and I felt: ‘Yeah, this is the right move for me.’ I got the buzz and enjoyment back, and I couldn’t be in a happier place to be honest, I’m playing football with a smile on my face. I just love football again.”
The Gunners have the look of a new side under head coach Unai Emery but there are still some areas of the pitch where additions are required – one of those being on the wing. Arsenal’s right hand side remains a problematic area, especially in the defensive areas where Manchester City, Chelsea and West Ham have exploited the weakness in recent games by scoring their respective goals after taking advantage of those flaws.
Hector Bellerin, in particular, has been exposed defensively because he rarely has a natural winger playing in front of him or tracking back. Henrikh Mkhitaryan seems the best suited to that position, although he drifts into his preferred inside-right role, and while Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey have both played there, they are traditional ‘No.10s’ and more successful playing through the middle.
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Admittedly, wingers have changed a lot since the likes of Marc Overmars was strutting his stuff down the flanks for Arsenal. The other top-six clubs generally have a main striker supported by an inside forward who is able to drift out wide or player in the centre. An example of this can be seen at Manchester City, who boast Sergio Aguero as the frontman and Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez as the wide forwards. Similarly, Tottenham have Harry Kane as their centre-forward while Son and Christian Eriksen are considered the wide forwards.
Walcott’s best qualities were his ability to run in behind and stretch defences. A player like Wilfried Zaha, who has already courted interest from the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham, could be the perfect addition to reduce the narrow system that the Gunners have restricted themselves to playing. Different game plans are crucial when you consider Arsenal are playing in four competitions and will need options on the bench to change things. Danny Welbeck has played on the wing, as has Aubameyang, with the only natural winger Reiss Nelson heading out on loan to Hoffenheim earlier this month.
It’s evident that Premier League teams rarely play with two up front, and the reliance on width is now focused more on the full-backs. Arsenal are certainly missing someone like Walcott – a goalscoring wide attacker – but they need someone to help the defenders, too. Signing a winger won’t solve all of Arsenal’s issues but it will give them variety and increased options in a position where they don’t have any natural wide men.