Let’s just get it out of the way, sensational result against a slightly understrength Newcastle side today with both Theo and Giroud making loud shouts for a starting berth at centre forward. I wouldn’t call the team’s performance “untouchable” despite the scoreline, as it was a battle up until the 4-3 and 5-3 eventually broke Newcastle’s resolve – a team that was understandably tired by after a nail-biter at Old Trafford only three days ago.
Defensively Arsenal were a little bit suspect, especially Gibbs on the third goal where he was beat clean by a player behind him. There is work to be done at the back, as we’ve seen for the last couple months. However, it’s hard to take fault with a 7-3 victory, even if the score is a little flattering considering the circumstances. What’s critical is to build off of it, as always. Especially with something like 8 wins in 10 games for our ugly Sp*rs neighbors who are playing well and ascending on the table.
Despite Giroud’s two goals (nearly three) in only twenty minutes the man-of-the-match was unquestionably Theo Walcott. His Henry-esque finish for the first goal – a tad lucky to be ruled onside – was exactly the clean and concise surgical skill we need from a centre forward. I have been critical of his 1v1 skills for a while but that one was executed perfectly. Not entirely guiltless however, he did spurn another 1v1 opportunity later and should have put in a MUCH better pass for the streaking Cazorla when the play broke for a clear 2-on-1 opportunity.
Undeterred, the second half saw even more Theo has he scored a couple more and added a fantastic assist to a great finish by the diving Olivier. His aptly described “cheeky” third goal was absolutely class; got up immediately despite a clear penalty shout, a little fancy footwork and a lovely finish over Krul to seal the deal. Reminded me of his goal against Chelsea when we beat them 5-3 last year, with his rapidfire footwork beating everyone who had expected a whistle, leading to a goal on that occasion too. But, that got me thinking.
When’s the last time Theo Walcott put the game on his back like he did today? Unfortunately, this is the problem with Walcott – his great performances are immense, but not frequent enough. His best borders on ‘sensational’, and it seems that those performances go deep within the memory; it’s easy to recall his hat trick against Croatia on international duty, the game where he gave Barcelona hell coming off the bench in the second half, the aforementioned Chelsea game from last season, and catalyzing a 7-5 comeback over Reading . Mind you, he’s played a lot of games in between those.
Unlike the best central strikers Arsenal’s had under Wenger – Henry and van Persie – Walcott does not consistently deliver these high-calibre performances. He can disappear in games, he can waste guilt-edge chances, he can be as frustrating to watch as he can be a pleasure on the eyes. With his contract winding down, there’s a great deal of discussion as to what his value is. Obviously today will result in an outpouring of “SIGN DA TING” – but once again I urge Gunners fans to keep in mind the non-performances that are easily forgotten when thinking about his handful of immaculate ones.
I feel that Theo has a role to play on this team, he has shown improvement in some key areas over the last couple seasons (particularly crossing) and his ridiculous pace makes him very valuable tactically. However, I do not think he is “the answer”. He is not the player who is going to single-handedly help Arsenal be trophy-competitive, he is not the player who is going to be likelier-than-not to bail Arsenal out of a bad game, and I think Arsenal would be foolish to pay world-class money for a player who I rate as an ‘A-‘. If he’s expecting to get paid like the player who is capable of those things, then I have reservations about what we’re willing to offer him in a new contract.
We have to keep in mind that Arsenal, despite what the figures show we’re capable of, are frugal. The ownership does not like to overpay, both in terms of transfer fees and wages. So if we are only going to be able to “afford” one or two players in the club’s top-tier wage bracket, I don’t know if Theo is a great investment when there are a lot of players in world football who are capable of more consistent performances. They may not offer the ability for a 10/10 performance, but I’d rather a player who is a known quantity – I will take a consistent 7 or 8 performer rather than a sometimes 6, sometimes 10 player.
Put simply, I like Walcott (even if I’m overly critical of him at times). He is capable of the superb, as we saw today… but I don’t see it often enough to justify breaking the bank to keep him, especially if that’s at the expense of players who can deliver more frequently. As fans, we must be cautious to weigh what we’re willing to give Walcott against what we’re willing to potentially give up. The figures have to be sensible; all Gunners want to keep our best players, and we’re certainly disheartened by losing RVP and Fabregas (amongst others), but that should not make us as fans – or as a club – vulnerable to making emotional decisions.
Speaking of consistency of delivery, my laptop is fixed and I hope to be working on CG more frequently in 2013. Thanks for sticking around; be sure to follow us on Twitter, and check out the personal ramblings of our authors Justin (Barriecuda) and Ken (ArseMagica) on the Arsenal Montreal Members Organization group on Facebook.