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Why Theo Walcott needs to start when Arsenal play Sunderland

Match Preview – Arsenal vs Sunderland – Premier League – 20/05/15

Preview 20 May 2015, 14:43 IST
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Theo Walcott Arsenal Sunderland
Theo Walcott changed the game for Arsenal when they played Manchester United at Old Trafford

Arsenal face Sunderland in tonight’s rearranged fixture needing only a point to effectively seal third place after salvaging a draw against United on Sunday. A win would settle third place and maybe even keep faint hope for second alive but winning against Sunderland isn’t a foregone conclusion.

The Black Cats also need just a single point to achieve their current objective with a game to spare. This could be a concern for Arsenal as Sunderland could set up to defend and in recent games Arsenal have struggled to find an answer to such tactics.

Against Manchester United we saw Wenger name the same lineup for the sixth consecutive game and I’m desperate not to see a seventh. I trust in Wenger’s choices but I sometimes don’t understand the logic behind them. Against teams who only defend, like Chelsea and Swansea, or teams who attempt to choke the air around us, like Manchester United, this team has struggled.

Arsenal are playing too narrow with the current lineup

I believe that line up to be too narrow and it’s causing congestion in midfield, aiding our opponents’ tactics. Aaron Ramsey has performed well, and can continue to do so, in the right flank role but not in these types of games. It’s not always possible to correctly predict your opponents’ tactics but we usually have a pretty good idea so can preempt the games where Ramsey wide isn’t going to work.

Possibly he has been starting through a lack of options, or a desire to see games out rather than take the riskier option, but this is exactly the sort of game we can afford to take a risk. Especially with so many games in quick succession. Ramsey showed on Sunday that he is at his best when he comes in-field and moving him inside plus the addition of Walcott really changed the game for Arsenal and rescued a point.

Games with defensive opponents scream out for a direct approach and with injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck the only viable option is Theo Walcott. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder but curiously in Walcott’s case his incredible pace, movement and finishing has been completely forgotten and people are judging him purely on his journey back to form.

Why Theo Walcott will be useful against Sunderland

His introduction on Sunday added much-needed directness and a different type of outlet that allowed us to claw a goal back. Had he been introduced earlier we may well have gone on to win it. I have said many times I’m not convinced Hector Bellerin is experienced enough to negate the space Walcott leaves behind him and Theo’s slow reintroduction to the fold has been down to a lack of experience and tactical nous in the right back position. Bellerin has been superb but he is still a little naive and Ramsey has offered better protection.

“Sunderland need a point to be safe so I expect them to be well organised defensively, sound at the back, and to try to use all the counter-attacks they can, all the set-pieces they have, to score goals.

“We have to put a high rhythm into this game and play with a high level of energy to win the game.”  – Arsène Wenger

Walcott’s substitution on Sunday, I think, demonstrated that there is some truth to my theory. Wenger decided to move Francis Coquelin to right back and take Bellerin off to bring Walcott on. He wanted Theo as an outlet but he wanted to maintain the balance and he did so brilliantly. I’d like to see Walcott start this match but that would mean Bellerin misses out which I don’t think is a bad thing because it gives him a little breather and also reminds him he still has work to do.

Three or four changes are required to keep things fresh I feel and I would be delighted to see Chambers starting behind Theo for added physicality. Some game time for Tomas Rosicky would also be nice as he looks likely to leave in the summer and with Laurent Koscielny facing a late fitness test we could see Gabriel get some minutes.

Rosicky
Will Arsenal fans get to see Tomas Rosicky play again this season?

Another change, possibly a controversial one, is Mathieu Flamini for Coquelin. I think we should be cautious with Coquelin as it would be just our luck to have our, arguably, most important player injured for the cup final. Sunderland are pretty much safe but will not want to be complacent so expect a physical, defensively minded game.

Arsenal squad: Ospina, Szczesny, Bellerin, Gibbs, Monreal, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Koscielny, Chambers, Rosicky, Wilshere, Flamini, Coquelin, Özil, Ramsey, Alexis, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud.

PREDICTED LINE-UP

Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Coquelin, Özil, Ramsey, Alexis, Cazorla, Giroud

I expect to see substitute appearances from Wilshere, Flamini and Walcott.

LAST 3 MEETINGS

  • Sunderland 0-2 Arsenal (25.10.14)
  • Arsenal 4-1 Sunderland (22.02.14)
  • Sunderland 1-3 Arsenal (14.09.13)
  • FORM GUIDE

Arsenal Last 5: DLWDW

Sunderland Last 5: DWWDL

OPPOSITION WATCH

Sunderland are one of those teams who always seem to find their feet just in time to save themselves from relegation. Their points return in the last six game is not as impressive as Leicester’s but they have done well to secure their Premier League future having been relegation certs in January.

They are a physically imposing side who are quite capable on the counter so Arsenal have to be wary of losing possession in silly areas.

If Sunderland come to defend they could make things difficult for Arsenal but history suggests that, like Sunderland and survival, we’ll find a way.

FACTFILE

  • Sunderland have not beaten Arsenal in their last 10 league attempts and only have one win in the last 22 league games
  • Arsenal have not lost at home to Sunderland since 1983
  • Three of their last six meetings at the Emirates have been 0-0 draws
  • Arsenal haven’t lost back-to-back home games since 2011 and not in the same season since 2010
  • Sunderland are on a four match unbeaten run
  • Giroud has three goals in four games against Sunderland but hasn’t scored in his last 6
  • Sunderland have been involved in more goalless draws than any other team this season (8)
  • Alexis needs just one more league goal to equal Henry’s Premier League record of 17 goals in his debut season
  • Arsenal haven’t lost a league game on a Wednesday for 17 matches

PREDICTION

I think this will be quite tight until the first goal goes in. I fancy Arsenal for a 2-0 win here.

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