Qualification for the World Cup in Brazil is reaching its climax. England have played the minnows home and away, leaving a tricky set of fixtures against their nearest rivals who are right in the mix with the Three Lions.
Andros Townsend is in the squad, ready to make his debut. However, in
the Donbass Arena in Ukraine Roy Hodgson picks Theo Walcott for his 36th
cap for his country.
England play poorly and Walcott, after an encouraging run into the box is cut short inside the first five minutes, is anonymous.
He offers no attacking threat, dribbles into players, his passing is askew, and he struggles to help England’s right back Kyle Walker defensively with the dangerous Yevhen Konoplyanka.
Hodgson received a lot of plaudits for picking Townsend against Montenegro and the Spurs winger picked up the man of the match award, as well as goal on his international debut. However, if Walcott was fit it is likely that the Gunner would have started. The truth is the former-Southampton trainee has flattered to deceive in an England shirt and simply is not the right winger the country is looking for.
Of the 36 games he has played for England the majority has followed this pattern – excellent start, Walcott beats his full back for pace easily a couple of times within the first fifteen minutes or so. His crossing is poor, but the hope is he will prove a very effective outlet for England who, typically, are lacking fluidity in attack.
Then the opposition left back works out he cannot beat Walcott in a foot race, so drops off him, knowing the winger cannot put in a Beckham-like cross. Walcott stops taking on his man, simply positioning himself wide and playing the ball back inside. Little is seen of him for the rest of the game.
This is not to beat on Walcott the player. Personally, I don’t think he is a right winger and Arsene Wenger’s inability to mould him into a proven striker is a mark against the great Frenchman.
Walcott has bundles of pace and is a true menace when there is space to run into, but when that space closes his effectiveness disappears. When England have struggled to break teams down, Walcott has rarely helped. However, when teams push up, the Stanmore-born forward has allied his pace to a proficient finishing ability and good composure, as his hat trick in Zagreb against Ukraine showed.
Townsend is a much more natural fit for the right wing position. He fits the modern day demand for an inside out winger, happy to run the line but mainly looking to cut inside.
He has pace – not quite as electric as Walcott but fast nonetheless – and terrific agility and balance while dribbling. As he showed on Friday night, he is as accomplished and comfortable hitting with his right as he is with his natural left and his crossing is better.
Walcott looks like he has been accommodated on the right wing because he should play somewhere, and that’s because he has, while Townsend looks completely natural on the wing, and that’s because he is.
England’s next new hope picked up the ball very early on in the game at Wembley and drove at his man. He lost the ball but he never lost his ambition to take on his man, and it’s that fearlessness that really separates him from his rivals. Walcott tends to get worse as the game goes on as he retreats into his shell, whereas Townsend grew into the game, his strong run down the wing leading to England’s first, while his strike for the calming third goal was something Walcott can never produce.
England’s right back, be it Glenn Johnson or Kyle Walker, will be a lot happier having a player in front of them who appreciates the defensive side of the game better. Again this is not a pop at Walcott, just a reflection that Arsenal’s number 14 is not naturally inclined to track back.
Danny Welbeck is the same, and in truth Walcott should be competing with the Manchester United forward for the inside left position. Walcott wanted to be the next Thierry Henry, and while he does not have the same skill set as the French World Cup winner there are enough similarities for them to play the same kind of position.
Critics will say, with some validation, that it was only one game. That Townsend has not played a year of Premiership football yet. Equally you could say Walcott has had plenty of chances and not convinced.
I prefer to look at the abilities of the players, and without a doubt Townsend’s are more suited to the role demanded of England’s right winger than Walcott. Tuesday against Poland will be another chance for the Tottenham player to enhance his standing, and in a funny way Walcott might be glad if it means the Arsenal attacker is considered as a striker from now on.
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