Arsenal fans had some good news on Friday evening as Theo Walcott made his first return to action after nine months out and it should serve to be a huge boost to the fortunes of Arsene Wenger’s side.
The Gunners manager, as well as many of the clubs supporters, will have bene relieved he came through the 45-minute cameo unscathed and, according to reports, looked sharp for the Under-21s against Blackburn Rovers.
While it meant he was not ready for the visit of Hull City to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, and most likely the trip to Anderlecht in the Champions League on Wednesday, Walcott will likely be in the squad for the clash with Sunderland next Saturday.
Wenger will be glad for the option of the speedy attacker in what should be a stern test against Gus Poyet’s side. But the boost for the rest of the season is what is really key for the Frenchman.
Despite the £30million purchase of Alexis Sanchez and bringing in Danny Welbeck from Manchester United for £16million this summer, Arsenal have struggled in attack at times.
Both new arrivals provide an injection of pace into the team, but Walcott is singular in the way he uses his. Pace in attack was a real problem last season and it was no coincidence that this became abundantly clear when the England man was ruled out for so long.
Sanchez is also very quick and there were hopes he would be able to exploit space behind defences when he arrived from Barcelona. But his natural instinct is to take the ball in front of the back line to dribble or pass.
He does run in behind, but doesn’t do it nearly often enough to stretch opposition defences that are keeping things tight. It is a similar case with Welbeck, who has shown glimpses of brilliance since arriving.
Welbeck was never going to get the opportunity to play as a centre-forward at Manchester United with Radamel Falcao, Robin van Persie and captain Wayne Rooney in front of him, so moving to the Emriates Stadium made sense.
Walcott’s mere presence changes the whole nature of games
He provides the combination of pace and power, giving the Gunners the threat in behind that Olivier Giroud cannot. However, playing at pinnacle of the forward line makes is difficult for him to find those opportunities and most of his time is spent playing with his back to goal, bringing teammates into play.
Walcott’s late runs from deeper on the right are a nightmare for opposition defenders and gives the Gunners a constant threat, with a number of good passers able to pick him out. His finishing has improved immensely over the past two seasons too.
Not only does his provide this danger, Walcott affects the way teams attack Arsenal. Wenger has been criticised for his side’s vulnerability on the break, but Walcott’s pace means teams are a bit more cautious throwing men forward.
Denying him space in behind also keeps defences sat a little deeper and unable to pressure the midfielders as much when in possession, giving them more time to use the ball effectively – Walcott’s mere presence changes the whole nature of games. Arsenal just need to keep him fit.