At the time of writing, there is still a possibility that Karim Benzema might join Arsenal before the end of the transfer-window - but, on the basis that Real Madrid are unlikely to want to sell the French international, it seems prudent to assume that Arsene Wenger’s attacking options will remain unchanged before the season begins.
Olivier Giroud, in spite of not starting at Wembley yesterday, is the first-choice forward, Theo Walcott is a secondary option and, as and when fit, Danny Welbeck will provide additional cover.
Walcott is the interesting one because, for as long as he’s been in the Arsenal first-team, a significant number of Arsenal fans have wanted to him played as a full-time forward. It’s one of those debates which never goes away and the opposing factions within seem unlikely to ever back-away from their respective positions.
Maybe, though, neither is correct. Friendly though it was, the Community Shield provided a very pertinent example of why Walcott is neither definitively a forward, nor indisputably not one.
He does certain things very well, he does others very badly. While it’s reductive to claim that his skill-set isn’t useful at the top of a formation, it’s equally selective to ignore the deficiencies he has for the role.
Arsenal were not particularly offensively-minded yesterday, so perhaps Walcott’s isolation at Wembley was a false-economy. Still, his touches - scarce though they were - were revealing: he’s clearly most comfortable when facing an opponent’s goal and most dangerous when receiving possession in space.
But, while that may be a valuable attribute in a forward, the modern game - at the highest level, at least - requires a more three-dimensional contribution. Against a Chelsea-calibre side, who possess great strength at both centre-back and defensive-midfield, a lone forward must not only have the right body-shape to contest for the ball in isolation, but also the back-to-goal nous to be the base camp for his side’s progression up the field.
If Theo Walcott had played twenty years ago, when the trend was generally for two-man attacking units, he would absolutely have been a centre-forward. He would have been able to delegate the position’s heavy-lifting to a partner and been required only to exist in the channels or on the back-shoulder of a defensive line.
He would have been very successful, too, because he absolutely can finish and his ability to time his runs between covering defenders is typically excellent.
In 2015, he can never be more than an occasional forward. Against limited sides who surrender possession and invite Arsenal into their own half, the support he needs to play as a forward is provided by advanced attacking-midfielders, but against the very best - in games where possession is more evenly split and against opponents who are better at retaining possession - his narrow skill-set will always cast him out onto the periphery.
Yes, yesterday he was partly a victim of his side’s general approach, but that game was also a measure of his limitations as a forward and a vivid illustration of what he can and cannot do.
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