Abou Diaby has left the club after nine injury-plagued years, which means that Theo Walcott is now Arsenal’s longest serving player.
Expectations were high back in 2006, when Arsene Wenger signed the 16-year-old from Southampton in a deal worth £12m.
He was given the legendary number 14 following Thierry Henry’s departure to Barcelona in 2008. The intention was clear; give Walcott the shirt and turn him into a worthy successor of the man himself.
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Since then, things haven’t quite worked out as hoped for Walcott. Injuries have halted his career, and progression as a player has been limited over the past few years.
In addition, he has played most of his games for the Gunners as a right-winger; something that Walcott himself has been frustrated about.
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Before signing his current deal with Arsenal, he even seemed to be on his way out the door in search of that central role in attack, which lead to Wenger having to give some assurances regarding the issue. Walcott signed and briefly featured in attack before being shifted out on the right again.
His time has come
It now seems that Walcott finally will be given the chance to feature mainly in centre for Arsenal in rotation with Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck.
In the FA Cup final, Walcott was chosen ahead of Giroud having netted a hat-trick against West Bromwich in Arsenal’s final Premier League game of the campaign four days before the final.
He put Arsenal into the lead, and Wenger was praised for his difficult decision to start the Englishman, which could be the reason behind Arsenal’s lack of transfer activity in attack.
Wenger is known for not wanting to spend for the sake of spending, and he prefers not to make too many additions to the squad in order to preserve the chemistry and trust of the players.
Therefore, it would seem fair to suggest that Wenger believes his options are good enough as Danny Welbeck also seeks his chance to shine as the front man.
However, there are still doubts over Walcott’s ability to play as the lone striker in a system relying so much on a physical presence holding up the ball for the attacking midfielders.
Walcott doesn’t have the physique, and nor is he able to play with his back to goal, but he does have the pace to hurt defenders, and he’s usually clinical in front of goal, when in form.
To get the best out of him, Wenger will have to rotate and play Walcott in matches where there’s space for him to run into. If the opposition plays with a deep line, space is limited, and Olivier Giroud or Welbeck would be better suited for those games, where a target man is necessary.
Is Theo Walcott ready to play as centre forward in rotation, or do Arsenal need a new forward?