To bench or not to bench Theo
England and Arsenal star Theo Walcott came off the bench to play a vital part in two goals that saw England overcome Sweden. The flying winger scored England’s equaliser before providing Danny Welbeck with a cross for the 74th minute winner. Walcott has long-since frustrated supporters with flashes of brilliance marred by sub-par performances. Most newspapers have billed each of six-to-seven of his best performances as “comings of age”.
In spite of this, until last season Walcott has struggled to become a consistent performer, which explains why his 25 minute cameo was his first real involvement in any major international tournament.
However, the 2011/12 season was a fruitful one for Theo, making the most appearances (46) and the most assists (13) in his Arsenal career as his team finished strongly to clinch 3rd place on the last day.
Injuries have never been on his side, with shoulder dislocations and ankle and knee problems, which have disrupted his career and slowed his progress.
It is hard to pin him down to one particular role because he has only recently established a regular playing pattern after all his career-plaguing injuries. Many say he is best used as an impact substitution, as in Friday’s game as well as game-changing impacts for Arsenal against Barcelona and Liverpool in the Champion’s League in years gone by. Others will tell you that he needs the trust and belief that can only be gained by starting regularly – see his hat tricks against Croatia and Blackpool.
But with James Milner’s two sub-par performances, Walcott may well have forced his name onto Roy Hodgson’s Tuesday teamsheet to face Ukraine. On the other hand, England’s need for a draw, or better, to qualify may see Hodgson stand by the more conservative, defensive Milner.
With Rooney also back in the fold, England could be looking far stronger for this last group game with Walcott, Rooney and probably Young being England’s attack, encapsulating pace, strength, skill, delivery and direction.
Welbeck and Carroll have done well, but are still far from Rooney’s level and have not played enough times for their country to be trusted every game.
Theo has come back strongly after being left out of the 2010 World Cup squad and this will merit the trust and belief needed to start him regularly, where he will flourish.
Hodgson should really show some drive by selecting Walcott as it sends a statement that his team are looking to take the game to their opposition, being pro-active rather than reactive. His pace devastates defenders and if Lionel Messi calls him “one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against”, he must be well worth considering.