Watching England’s performances in Euro 2012, and against Italy in particular, got me thinking about the best way of using Theo Walcott.
Seeing the inept James Milner huff and puff to zero effect and lose the ball every time he got it; and watching the useless Ashley Young fail to beat his marker once in the entire game, I started from a position of outright fury.
How could either of those cloggers be selected ahead of the man whose contribution was vital to getting England into the Quarter Finals – our very own Theo Walcott?
I know Theo has his critics, but next time any Arsenal supporter wants to bitch about our flying winger they should bring out the video of England v Italy, June 24th 2012, and watch the performances of Milner and Young.
Any player can have a bad game, but that pair have been clueless throughout the tournament.
Admittedly, they weren’t helped in the last two games by having to play alongside Wayne Rooney, who was as poor as I have ever seen him. In fact, England were worse once Rooney came back from suspension. He played with the energy and touch of a shagged out granny.
Maybe gaining a new head of hair has produced a kind-of reverse Samson effect (the Biblical Samson lost his great strength when his flowing locks were cut off while he slept. I believe GoonerMichael has an alibi).
I started wishing I could speak to Roy Hodgson to say: “Roy, what are you doing? You can see how p*ss poor your wingers are, why haven’t you dropped one and replaced him with Theo?”
But then I imagined what Roy would say in response (once he’d got past “who the bleep are you and what are you doing in my dug-out?”).
I fancied his reply would go like this:
“Look, I’m not stupid. I know that Theo is faster than those clowns, I know he’s more skillful and I know he’s a better finisher. I know he can leave his defender for dead if he gets the right run and I know his ability to provide assists has grown exponentially.
“But here’s the thing. I want Dumb and Dumber to wear down the opposition first and then, when the defenders’ legs are getting weary and their concentration is beginning to waver, I want Theo to come on and tear them a new one.”
That’s exactly how it panned out against Sweden, with Walcott scoring with an outstanding shot and setting up a goal for Welbeck with a great run to the line and pull back.
And despite my frustration on Theo’s behalf, I can see that there is a point to Hodgson’s approach – and one that Arsene Wenger maybe could learn from.
Many observers have argued that Theo is least effective when facing a defensively set-up team aiming to “not lose” rather than to win. When the bus is parked, there’s very little room for Theo to get round it.
But as space opens up in the later stages of a game, he gets more opportunities.
Next season (assuming he stays – and I sincerely hope he does) I could see Theo featuring primarily as an impact sub. We would start with Podolski and one of Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain in the wide positions, and bring Walcott on with 30 minutes to go.
It shouldn’t be seen as a demotion for Theo – rather a way of maximising his contribution in a very specialist way.
I think he’s as good a wide player as we have in the EPL, and people’s frustration with him reflects the fact that he does a job where he is constantly have to push the envelope – to make goal chances or provide great crosses. Against most EPL opposition you’re never going to be given the freedom to do that at will – you will be thwarted a lot of the time.
But Theo has shown that he can break the shackles on a consistent basis. Using him when the opposition defence is more ragged and disorganised may well be the right way to go.
Mind you, I can’t imagine that being part of Arsène’s pitch to Theo when he tries to get him to extend his contract…