Pitchside Europe

Giroud beware: Why Walcott could claim striker role

In recent seasons, there has perhaps been no role more hotly contested at Arsenal than the striker.

From Robin van Persie’s departure from the Emirates Stadium to Olivier Giroud’s on-again-off-again form, we’ve now come full circle and find ourselves discussing whether Theo Walcott ought to be used as a lone frontman.

Last year, the topic arose as an alternative to the misfiring Giroud, which Wenger ultimately gave into around this time in 2012.

Giroud goals

However, the reasons behind such thinking this time around are different. Having scored seven goals already in the 2013/14 campaign, Giroud appears to have settled into his English surroundings and, where once there was a lack of security, now sits a relatively reliable attacking resource.

The problem being that the Frenchman is the only such resource currently at Wenger’s disposal, in danger of burnout at this early stage of the season and already showing signs of fatigue having not netted in his last three Premier League outings.

This weekend’s 6-3 loss at Manchester City was a tough pill to swallow for any Arsenal fan, reminding the North Londoners that there’s an awfully long way to go in this campaign and that weaknesses are very much present in their side.

However, taking positives where one can, Walcott shone as Arsenal’s key offensive outlet, showing a succinct striker’s touch when moving through the Citizens' central lines, which he occupied for the vast majority of the match.

For his efforts, the Englishman was rewarded with two goals, both of which were commendable strikes and Walcott was unfortunate not to have added more to his tally. However, despite the severity of the loss, he gave Wenger something to ponder.

Last season, it was in the 7-3 win over Newcastle United that Walcott enjoyed his gleaming moment at the crest of Arsenal’s attack. A hat-trick and two assists against the Magpies seemed to serve as vindication that the English international was best served playing through the middle.

By now, it’s no great secret that the Southampton academy product once started life as a striker, but the wealth of central targets in North London - not to mention the youngster’s exceedingly deep reserves of pace - meant that a career on the wing has been carved out for Walcott at Arsenal.

Having only recently returned from injury, Walcott’s place in Wenger’s starting XI is far from assured. Last weekend’s outing against Manuel Pellegrini’s side was the speedster’s first start since coming back in late November, though that would only serve as further evidence as to how useful the 24-year-old is up front.

In his absence, the competition among the Gunners’ creative ranks is as tight as ever, with Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla all showing their own share of good form and with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski still to return from injury.

On the other hand, the forward line isn’t thriving nearly as much. Therefore, in terms of spreading the competition amongst the squad evenly, Walcott may indeed be best served providing backup for Giroud, or even contesting with his team-mate for the starting spot.

Elite options in every position are vital for any squad hoping to win the Premier League, which is something Wenger doesn’t have if Nicklas Bendtner is as good as it gets coming off the bench.

Walcott’s main foe in this scenario, however, is consistency. The nine-goal thriller at the Etihad Stadium was something of a freak result and one that can’t yet be used as the basis for an entire season’s planning.

That being said, if Wenger’s pacey poacher can maintain such form, the answer to his striking woes may have been hidden under that coat all along.

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