It’s that time of the season again – the ‘will-he-or-won’t-he’ moment when the transfer window inevitably gains the most intrigue, as the season begins and a squad that previously may have seemed good enough to go with, but now, becomes a sinking ship that requires instant maintenance.
With Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to West Ham the previous week, cracks have begun to appear — or rather, become more pronounced. The opinion that the club is ‘one defensive midfielder and a striker away from a title’ is not a new one.
With the club seemingly quiet on the transfer front regarding the former and nothing but vague rumors of Karim Benzema for the latter, it’s unlikely that Arsenal will announce the signing of any world-class player in that mould within the next two weeks.
Should this assumption prove to be true and Arsenal end the transfer window with Petr Cech being the only notable signing, the only remaining solution would be that of the internal – the hope that players in the existing squad manage to come good or improve on previous seasons.
Ominously enough, the club has actually done so not once, but twice in the last season; Francis Coquelin’s rise to first-team action and an FA Cup medal has been well-documented, but Hector Bellerin’s own rise has been no less impressive, given his debut against a side like Borussia Dortmund.
In that sense, pacier players would provide a better outlet for attacks — and with Danny Welbeck’s injuries, plus Alexis Sanchez’s inability to keep the ball through the middle, there is an opportunity for Walcott to return to the starting eleven on a permanent basis.
Not only does he possess the raw pace, but also the goalscoring touch that until previously, seemed to be permanently eluding him.
A simple comparison of stats shows a difference between him and Olivier Giroud last season; the last time Walcott had a full season, he had slightly more shots (2.7 to 2.6), key passes (1.3 to 1.1) and a marginally higher amount of offsides (0.8 to 0.5) with a similar amount of starts (24 to 21), although it must be noted that Walcott mostly played as a wide forward back then. Both too, scored 14 goals, although Walcott helped set up 10 goals to Giroud’s 3.
With that said, despite the statistics hinting at Walcott being a better fit upfront, his performances have veered between the sublime and the anonymous; for every West Brom or Newcastle, there is a Bayern Munich.
Still, his performance in the Community Shield was encouraging, in the sense that his pace forced Chelsea back and opened up space for Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla to dictate play.
Perhaps, if he cannot entirely become a pacy poacher, he can play the pivot role in a different, but no less, effective way than Giroud.
With Arsenal needing three points against Crystal Palace, we return to the question: Will he or won’t he? He may not be a new signing, but Walcott will need to provide the impact of one if he’s to kickstart Arsenal’s new season. Ultimately, only time will tell.