As we set up camp in the second half of a consistently inconsistent season, as well as disappointments there has been many a moment to create a lasting memory in the mind of the nostalgic Gooner, from Samir Nasri’s two exhibitions of “beautifully- balanced ballet in a football penalty-box” against Fulham, to the exciting emergence of Jack Wilshere, and of course the defeat of Chelsea on December 27th. Yet for me, one moment above all others has provided this season’s enduring image. It came when watching an almost surreal match in a misty Donbass Arena. An under- strength Arsenal, whose yellow shirts juxtaposed Donetsk’s orange to quite mystical effect, were defending a corner. The event which immediately ensued was both remarkable and, at the same time, almost frightening in the way in which it so strongly resembled a sight we had been merrily accustomed to for years. As the number 14, emblazoned on the classic yellow strip, streaked off into the distance, reminiscences of Thierry Henry came flooding back. By leaving the defender for dead before passing the ball into the far corner of the net, Theo Walcott had, just then, unwittingly given himself the gargantuan task one wouldn’t want forced upon their greatest nemesis, that being to step into the cavernous shoes of Thierry Henry, the Great. Personally, being of a tender age, Thierry is naturally the player I idolise and reminisce about the most. Whilst for others the man they may be celebrating a fantasised League Winners or FA Cup medal with is Liam Brady, Michael Thomas or Dennis Bergkamp, the protagonist of my football fantasies is Henry. Although I am old enough to have witnessed the genius of Dennis, it is the
The potential is there, and the romantic in me longs for Theo to fulfill it effortlessness, endearing arrogance and immense talent of Thierry Henry which provides me with an idol I long to see perform at his peak all over again. While I know this is impossible, I am surely not the only one to wonder whether our boy Theo is indeed the second coming.
Can Theo Turn inTo Thierry?
Josh Bednash ponders if tactical adjustments are needed to bring out the best in our current no 14
The obvious similarities are there, not only in their shared pace and potent right foot, but also symbolically, in shirt number. When Walcott chose to adopt Henry’s legendary number 14, a shirt some fans suggested should have been retired in order to respect our record goalscorer’s unique and legendary status, Theo himself reignited early comparisons between the pair. Whether he liked it or not, and some may muse that the former is the case, Theo had given himself a pair of king-sized Nike boots to fill. Last week,
with the return of Henry in a training capacity, Walcott spoke out about the impact of wearing such an iconic number. He said:
“It probably did add more pressure.
There were always comparisons between me and
Thierry with the way we run and finish.” He also went on to say that to wear the number is a great ‘honour’, claiming that it was his family who brought its significance to his attention, when they asked: “You know whose shirt that is, don’t you?”
Of course, the potential is there, and the romantic in me longs for Theo to fulfill it, but whether he can, or is encouraged to, is another matter altogether. Amongst other things, Theo is without Thierry’s swagger, and while this may develop in him as he gets older, the way in which Thierry couldn’t help but make the entire match revolve around him, even if he wasn’t playing well, is a feat only one player in 1000 can achieve. At a more technical level, Theo seems to lack the immense skill
4 I said ‘Let’s go for the double’, not the paso doble!
and close control Thierry possessed, as well as the physicality he often used to bully defenders. So now the question remains, can Theo Walcott truly turn into a prolific, swaggering, Thierry Henry replica? For me, the answer is yes. Ever since signing Walcott as a fresh faced 16 year old in 2006, Arsene Wenger has remained adamant the Englishman will end up a striker. At the beginning of the season, Wenger once more prophesied this by saying: "I believe he can score goals because when he was young he scored goals, and I am convinced he will finish in the middle. He times his runs well, once he is a yard clear nobody in the world can catch him, and now he is more composed in front of goal." An impressive tally of 10 goals and 6 assists in 22 appearances this season reaffirms the general consensus that as he matures, Theo will continue to add a more clinical touch to his game. Remembering how Thierry Henry was transformed from a winger into a prolific frontman by Arsene Wenger, many will be hoping Theo benefits from a similar transformation. However, currently a large sticking point is undoubtedly the tactical differences between this current Arsenal side, and the one which was effectively built around Henry from the years 2001-2007. The 4-4-2 formation used to such devastating effect particularly between 2001 and 2004 was, whilst being a popular formation of that era, a nuanced subversion of the norm. Rather than playing one holding midfielder and one adventurous creator in the middle, the generally defensive-minded pair of Gilberto and Vieira occupied these two slots. Ours was a quick, oneand two-touch direct passing game, where play in the final third largely revolved around the two front men, full backs, and the late, infield runs of Pires and Ljungberg, where the space created by the deeper-lying central midfielders was enjoyed by Dennis Bergkamp and his incisive passing. It was a system that lent itself ideally to Henry’s pace and precise finishing. Henry needed the 44-2 just as much as it needed him. Since Wenger’s change to 4-3-3, or 4-2-3-1, depending on how the game is progressing, offensive moves are slower, and based more on patient probing, rather than explosive counterattacks. As teams have also begun to defend deeper against us in recent years, this has coincided with the final third often becoming overly congested, a scenario in which we have regularly witnessed Walcott become crowded out, ineffective and eventually substituted. Currently, the central-striker deployed in the attacking triumvirate, be it Chamakh, Van Persie or Bendtner, is largely used as a link between midfield and attack, and I can recall very few moments in which the central striker has had a clear run on goal, au
Thierry. Thus, for Theo to discover his huge potential as an Henryesque striker, I would have thought a reversion to the old
4-4-2 would be a necessity,
so that he is able to linger on the half-turn inbetween full-back and centre-half, just as Thierry did so often. As with Henry, I am optimistic Walcott’s ever-improving finishing will take care of the rest once he springs beyond the last defender, as against Chelsea, and Newcastle in the Carling Cup. Could Van Persie, similarly sporting the same legendary number 10 as his Dutch predecessor, perform the Dennis Bergkamp role in such a transformation? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, the prospect of a future containing the success of yester- year is exciting. And while it would be unhealthy for Arsenal to aim for success only by replicating the recipe for previous achievements, allowing Walcott to realise his striking potential may well be paramount if lasting memories are to outweigh disappointments. 5