Theo Walcott's now officially accredited hat-trick against Reading in the Capital One Cup fourth round, has intensified the debate over whether he should play as a central striker.
Even manager Arsene Wenger appears to be warming to the idea of unleashing Walcott on defenses as a central striker, rather than as a wide forward, according to reports in Metro.
Yet the issue is not as clear as assuming Walcott will simply star once he's positioned through the middle. Wenger must overcome a number of problems before he can make Walcott's deployment there a success.
The Problem of Formation
The problem with suddenly allowing Walcott to attack through the middle is that Arsenal's current formation only accommodates one central striker. The Gunners operate a 4-2-3-1 formation that is supposed to be able to adapt during games.
The theory at least, is that Arsenal can play 4-3-3 with the ball and 4-5-1 without it. The problem is that the formation is quite rigid and for long periods of a game Arsenal need their wide players to act more like midfielders than strikers.
That consigns players like Walcott and Lukas Podolski to wide areas where they work in tandem with a full-back, offensively and defensively. These responsibilities are taking natural strikers out of the central areas where they can do the most damage.
To effectively utilize Walcott as a striker, Wenger would be forced into either tweaking his current formation, or changing it altogether. A move to a narrow 4-3-3 would place Walcott in the middle more often, but deny Arsenal the natural width they have now and force their central midfielders to cover more ground.
The Problem of Support and Playing Style
A chief problem with accommodating Walcott centrally within the current tactical structure, is that he has never looked strong enough to lead the line by himself. That means Walcott requires a supporting partner up front.
Two central strikers calls for a shift in formation and that might not favour Arsenal defensively or in terms of their style of play. Switching to the type of 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 that brought Wenger so much success in the first half of his Gunners tenure, might be an option.
However, the argument against the 4-4-2 is that it leaves teams too short in midfield. It is unlikely Wenger would want to give up the supposed tactical advantage gained from being able to pack five into midfield.
Aside from finding a suitable partner for Walcott, his presence up front could alter the way Arsenal build attacks. Support doesn't just mean a second striker, it also means playing the type of passes Walcott thrives on.
Against Reading, every time Andrei Arshavin drifted into central areas, he was looking to find Walcott with long passes, either along the ground through the gaps, or over the top of the defense.
This is a more direct mode of play that takes better advantage of Walcott's phenomenal straight-line speed. The problem is that Wenger has constructed his latter Arsenal teams to play in a different way.
The emergence of diminutive playmakers like Cesc Fabregas, encouraged Wenger to switch Arsenal from pacey counter thrusts to more deliberate and intricate build up play. This dynamic certainly looks set to continue, with technically-minded schemers like Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere in the fold.
The Problem of Poor Off the Ball Movement
One of this writer's chief complaints against Walcott has been his limited range of off the ball movement. Even from wide areas, Walcott has often failed to vary his runs between and behind a defense.
Quality, intelligent movement is the key for any striker, just as Robin van Persie has proved in the last three seasons. Walcott would have to display improved instincts and channel his runs to provide a natural outlet for Arsenal's passing.
Shifting Walcott centrally, is certainly an idea worth experimenting with, but it will require more than just a positional switch for one player to make it a success.755005