This could be quite self-indulgent so before those depths are plumbed, caps should be doffed and best wishes for the fullest recovery proffered in the direction of Theo Walcott. As he rode into the pantheon of Arsenal legends by taunting Tottenham supporters on Saturday, the amateur diagnosis seemed relatively positive; a matter of weeks, no more. Best to leave such things to the professionals as those early thoughts were about, oh, six months out.
The immediate question is how does Arsène solve this particular problem. Does he even need to? There are plenty of candidates for a straightforward replacement on the right side of attack, any pairing of the midfield and attackers bar Giroud, Arteta and Flamini could play there and indeed did so when Walcott was missing earlier in the season. Serge Gnabry’s performance against Tottenham pencils him in as the most obvious candidate. It is a chance to shine before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finishes his recovery in the next few weeks.
But the problem is not that simple; who replaces the goal threat? Who was stepped forward at Upton Park to take a brace of goals home with him? I see one who can fill those boots but Podolski that supposed to be in tandem with Walcott, not instead of. Theo has scored five in thirteen Premier League matches this season making him third in the top scorers list. He was missing for two months with an abdominal injury and Arsenal coped admirably in his absence. That some will point to, claiming it obviates the immediate need for a new signing but missing the rest of the season is a lot more of an issue than six games. That immediate need for a goalscorer points to one of the wider issues. This window, as I mentioned yesterday, I felt the manager needed to act to sign cover for Olivier Giroud. Others pointed to Walcott as cover; his injury exposes a flaw in that plan. For the next month, Arsène can call on Lukas Podolski and is then into the realms of youth and potential. Upcoming fixtures offer some respite from the pressing need to sign a player but February and March are less forgiving; the prospect of the encounters with Liverpool, Bayern, United, City, Tottenham and Chelsea relying on Olivier Giroud’s fitness is a cause for concern. The injury suffered at Newcastle exposed the myth that Arsenal have enough depth to cover his absence. Every time the French striker hits the turf, a million hearts skip a beat; Wenger’s search for another striker has some added urgency.
Yet the immediacy of an internal solution is not apparent and Walcott’s absence raises an uncomfortable problem for him to confront. Quickly, quietly, I am sure that the manager and his scouts rustled together their list of targets who can fulfil Theo’s role in the side. It will be an interesting test of Arsène’s managerial techniques. Will he seek to develop a replacement from within, chancing a season to the fates of youth or dip into the transfer market, sign a permanent or loan deal, placing his hands in the gods of good fortune? It is almost counter-intuitive for Wenger in these moments, to resort to the cheque book as a solution. He knows that promoting a fringe player boosts not only that individual’s confidence but also that of the squad; a clearer signal of belief could not be delivered.
Whether it is a long-term solution or a quick fix is an interesting dilemma for the manager. Arsène has already made it clear he views signing a player this transfer window is going to be difficult with Bayern and Atletico already turning down bids which were not made for Mandukic and Diego Costa. It just needs Porto to follow suit as far as Jackson Martinez is concerned and the full set of media darlings will be staying put. Loan deals seem more appealing; at moments like this you have to wonder if there is a mechanism for Arsenal to recall Joel Campbell from his loan spell in Greece? Indeed, is Campbell himself reading that news, thinking that he is the solution to Arsenal’s problem? The player received his work permit in the summer and it was somewhat surprising when he was lent to Olympiacos, leading to speculation that the manager is not convinced by the Costa Rican. Some people rate him highly and he has gained invaluable experience; Walcott’s injury might have given him an opportunity but the difficulty in balancing the possibilities in either circumstance is highlighted. Few have argued with the disagreed with the decision to let him go but Hindsight is an easy tool to employ, you never get anything wrong in those circumstances.
Food for thought came in last night’s FA Youth Cup tie. Chuba Akpom’s hat-trick hints at youthful answers but despite his haul, it was Dan Crowley who stole the show. However, Akpom’s goals and the potential of Afobe offers an alternative if needed. There is a world of difference between youth and reserve football to the Premier League but that can be of benefit to a young player; the unexpected in an ordered world. Is it a chance for youth to shine through if needed? For Arsène it represents a huge risk, the club sits atop the Premier League and favourites to progress to the FA Cup Fifth Round. The Coventry cup tie offers an opportunity to bring through a younger striker as well as more established players returning to fitness.
No doubt some will argue against the need to buy. Personally, I think a loan is going to be the solution and it allows Arsène the time to search for Mr Right and not Mr Right Now. One thing is certain; it’s Arsenal and life is never easy.