When the announcement of the line-up came through yesterday, I was hoping to see two things:
- Walcott up top, through the middle
- Jack Wilshere in the center with Santi/Alexis in the wide areas
We all know which one of these two we saw.
Wenger had recently spoken of finally moving Theo up top, through the middle – the position for which he was brought to Arsenal for some 9 years ago! I had recently written on Theo and why Wenger needs to walk the talk now. The game versus WBA seemed to be a start and what a start it was!
Theo’s hat trick did not only give a glimpse of a variety of traits expected in strikers but was also a reflection of what his role as a central striker can do the opposition and/or can help Arsenal’s pass-and-move approach.
Having said that, this piece will look at
- What Walcott’s goals said about his abilities
- Tactical implications of Theo as a ST for both Arsenal and West Brom
- Implications, if any, of this performance on both the short term and long term future for Arsenal
Let’s address his goals quickly; though all three were of a different nature, we can identify the footballing traits required to have scored them and are desirable in strikers generally:
- The first goal was an exceptional finish; I certainly didn’t expect a shot from there. The fact that he aimed for the top corner rather than bottom was also an indication of his desire to ensure it would be a goal despite it being more difficult to execute.
- The second was a toe poke; yet, toe pokes can very easily be directed straight to the keeper.
- The hat trick goal was a tap in; but, they’re not as easy to execute as they seem sometimes (ask Martin Keown). Nevertheless, you expect strikers to have them perfected.
- Pace & Movement – I urge you to watch a replay of the first goal and watch Walcott’s movement throughout the build-up before he finally receives the pass – he literally went from one end of the box to the other! In fact, he was moving all over the place throughout the game and quickly, when movement is complemented with pace it becomes difficult for the opposition defense to track/mark. Walcott continuously found himself in space.
- Selfish – the good kind! Theo looked sharper and did not delay in taking a shot at goal. Previously we had seen him delay his shots which resulted in poor attempts at goal; however, this time he took ownership of his role – I am here to score goals!
Theo’s display was one which showed an understanding of his limitations but a leverage of his strengths. Though I must admit, he did surprisingly show quick feet for his second goal before he had to stretch and toe poke.
Is he the answer to our need for an antithesis of Giroud? Before I give my views on that, I believe we need to understand how Theo as a striker helped Arsenal versus West Brom.
Below is an image of how teams park the bus versus us when we have Giroud up top. I have not included our fullbacks in the equation, out of laziness more than anything else really, but the point here is the small gap between the opposition midfield and defense.
You’ll see how we rely on breaking down the opposition by linking up with Giroud. The Frenchman’s limited movement means that each opposition player can stay in their zone without worrying about extra players entering it. Furthermore, they’re safe knowing that Giroud cannot get in behind them. Now the midfield just has to sit deep and any run that our midfield runner attempts after a pass to Ollie is most likely to be blocked off because there isn’t any space. The only space we have is further away from the opposition’s area.
Additionally, our midfield HAS to play further up because, well, playing the ball through for Giroud to latch onto is not an option. Giroud’s limited movement means the back four are less concerned about Sanchez or Ox/Welbeck/Ramsey penetrating from the flanks because there is no overload in a particular zone. Of course with the Ox it’s a different matter because he pushes the defense further back due to his ability to beat a man and put in a cross.
So, how did this situation alter with Theo being played up top? If we look at the image below – I have excluded passes to simplify things – we can see two major differences from the previous image:
- The gap between midfield and defense
- The central striker’s movement
(Tactics images created at http://outsideoftheboot.com/tactics-creator/)
I can only speculate why West Brom’s midfield tried to close us slightly higher up the field, hence creating a bigger gap behind them for the Arsenal midfield to exploit:
- To prevent our midfield playing balls in gaps for Theo and/or
- Our midfield deliberately held a deeper position when building up hence drawing their midfield higher up.
A is plausible because there is a higher likelihood of Theo getting in behind the defense; B is possible if a conscious decision was made post-Swansea/Sunderland.
Though it’s a small change, but another difference between the two images is that the defense dropped deeper by a few inches; also helping widen the gap between them and their midfield. Arsenal’s quick pass-and-move driven by Wilshere, Ozil, and to some extent Cazorla/Sanchez, meant that the West Brom midfield shield was bypassed with relative ease on several occasions.
This led to the defenders having to worry about these on rushing midfielders and a mobile Theo. Theo ‘s movement would and could help create an overload in any one zone hence drawing another defender out of position OR he just has to move into space nearby while the midfield has the attention of the defenders ONLY. I say ONLY because the opposition midfield; that have previously been a wall for defenders, have already been bypassed.
In summary, Theo as a striker helped our midfield do what they do best. Ironically, it was Theo’s face-to-the-goal approach that helped our midfield runners do the ‘running’.
As easy as it would be to think we have found an answer, we should take into consideration a couple of things:
- West Brom’s motivation – how determined were they to really stop us?
- One game – this was just one game; let’s not jump to conclusions just yet!
I wish Wenger had started Theo in the middle a couple of games ago so there would be more evidence to base any decision on. It is VERY tempting to suggest that this line up should start in the FA Cup Final next week (Kos for Gabriel the necessary change and maybe Nacho for Gibbs) but what if it doesn’t work?
This would be much easier to answer if the reason for the gap between midfield and defense was CONFIRMED. Perhaps you can help me out on that one? This question is important because it’ll help better predict whether or not Villa would offer us the same luxury.
Personally I’d still be tempted to start Theo because he has a real hunger to prove himself. He did not beat about the bush versus West Brom and will be determined to prove he is a striker. From a tactical point of view he’ll give our midfield a lot more to work with, even if Villa does park the bus and narrows the gap between midfield and defense.
What about the long-term? A fellow Gooner asked me yesterday if I felt that we still need to buy a striker. I said I don’t know, simply because this was just one game. As I mentioned earlier, Theo has his limitations but if he can leverage his strengths and build on them further, then maybe we have found a solution. Moreover, a striker would have to be offloaded and I’m not talking about Podolski or Campbell!
I love a forward with skill and flair to complement his pace, movement, and finishing and we do lack that. Those are the sort of players that can individually turn a game on its head. However, Wenger’s Arsenal is all about the team effort now and other areas of the pitch do need strengthening as well. I could be wrong, and I wouldn’t mind being wrong, but I don’t think Wenger will go for a striker in the upcoming transfer window.
Regardless, all about the FA Cup next week so let’s get behind the team and hope we break the record for most number of FA Cups won by a team!
P.S. I am a Jack Wilshere fan and would like to say, his goal aside, I thought he was brilliant yesterday! And apologies for the Keown mention, horrid horrid memory to bring up!