When Arsene Wenger told the press he was in no hurry to spend Emmanuel Adebayor’s transfer fee and would replace him with “an internal player,” more than a few people probably had the same reaction: “Same old Wenger, always stingy.”
A quick look over Arsenal’s roster, however, proves Wenger indeed has no shortage of options at forward. Robin van Persie surely starts up front when he’s healthy. Eduardo appears to be fully recovered from his devastating leg injury. Andrei Arshavin is a natural goal scorer who can move from the wing to a forward spot in a pinch. Carlos Vela is an emerging talent. Nicklas Bendtner… well, his boots certainly stand out.
The wild card in this lineup, though, is Theo Walcott. Is he ready to take his place up front as a striker for Arsenal?
While the 20-year-old England international has spent a lot of time playing on the wing for the Gunners, he’ll be the first to tell you he’s a natural forward, and he’s proven his scoring ability multiple times in an England kit. Any young Englishman who manages a hat trick in a World Cup Qualifier in Zagreb clearly has enough talent to scoring at the club level, too.
Walcott was set back last season by a dislocated shoulder, but he returned in the spring to show flashes of brilliance, including his FA Cup semifinal goal against Chelsea and his stunning counterattack that set up Andrei Arshavin’s fourth goal against Liverpool.
Oh, by the way, he’s also wearing Thierry Henry’s No. 14 now, and that he’s playing for the manager who made Henry the star striker he is today.
There are a few issues, however, with playing Walcott up front. At 5’9″ and roughly 150 pounds, Theo seems a little undersized to be a true striker in the Premier League. Size hasn’t stopped someone like Lionel Messi from being a world-class forward, of course, but Messi plays in a less physical league and is perhaps an even rarer talent than Walcott. Plus, given his pace and passing ability, Walcott seems better suited to the wing, where he can break down fullbacks and cross the ball to open teammates.
Another reason why Walcott might not take his place up front immediately for Arsenal? Samir Nasri’s broken leg. With the French international expected to be out until October, both Walcott and Arshavin might be asked to stay out on the wings, leaving van Persie, Eduardo and Bendtner as the primary options up front — and a healthy Eduardo is awfully hard to leave on the bench for any reason.
Walcott harbors dreams of being a target man up front for Arsenal, but I suspect his opportunities will be limited to cup ties at the start of the season. If he proves to be a frequent scorer as a striker, however, Wenger will have a hard time justifying leaving him out on the wing.