Walcott makes claim for FA CUP final starting spot

Theo Walcott earned the headlines as he scored a hat-trick in Arsenal’s final Premier League match of the season, a 4-1 win at home to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. With the FA Cup final set for this Saturday and first-choice striker Olivier Giroudmisfiring lately, Walcott‘s performance gave manager ArseneWenger plenty to ponder about his team selection.

After watching Walcott‘s performance on Sunday, the choice seems clear. Walcott should start at center-forward, and Giroud should remain on the bench. Walcott‘s form, as well as his movement and speed, give Arsenal the best chance to beat Aston Villa in the final.

Throughout the season, Giroud has been Arsenal’s first-choice striker, and for good reason. Simply put, Wenger has not had many other options.

For his part, Walcott has made no secret of his desire to play through the middle, but Wenger generally prefers to play him on the flank. Danny Welbeck joined from Manchester United at the end of last-summer’s transfer window but, like Walcott, has played mainly on the flank. Alexis Sanchez can fill in as a center-forward, but that is not his best role.

In addition, Walcott only returned from a long-term injury layoff in January. Since then, however, Wenger has used him only sparingly, leading to questions over the player’s future, with only one year left on his contract.

Sunday’s hat-trick only helpedWalcott‘s cause, both in regards to his playing time and his contract negotiations. His first goal, a blast across the face of goal and into the top corner, was simply a great finish. His second showed both skill and determination as he took the ball from a defender before depositing his shot inside the near post. For the third, he was in the right place at the right time to tap in.

Speaking to Arsenal.com after the match, Wenger said:

Without his hat-trick or with his hat-trick, we want him to stay. We are in negotiations and we have started to speak with his agent. We did that before he scored his hat-trick. Last time he got injured he was playing centre forward in a very convincing game against Tottenham Hotspur in January. He got injured and was out for a year. On that day he was injured playing up front.

Wenger didn’t quite say it in as many words, but Arsenal could not have asked for much more from their starting center-forward. And it’s not clear Giroud could have replicated or improved on Walcott‘s performance.

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That’s not meant as a knock on Giroud. The Frenchman has led Arsenal’s line admirably this season and has been an integral part of the team’s successes. But after serving as the Gunners’ lone target man for most of the season, he’s exhausted. That fatigue has been acutely apparent in recent weeks, with Giroud failing to find the net in his last eight games.

Walcott, meanwhile, has played well, and not just against WestBrom. Although he did not score against Sunderland midweek, he sparked Arsenal’s attack when he entered the match as a second-half substitute. The match finished scoreless, but Walcottposed his side’s greatest attacking threat.

“He was the one who created the chances (against Sunderland), and I always said that he could play through the middle because he has good movement, good finishing and he did that well today,” Wenger said, via Arsenal.com.

It should be noted that Giroud and Walcott are different types of players. Whoever starts at center-forward, Arsenal will likely be considered favorites at kick-off, but the identity of the starter could determine how the Gunners play. Giroud offers a physical element, acting as a central cog in the attack and playing as a burly target man, with decent returns on goals and assists. Walcott provides pace and movement, and when he’s on form, his attributes can be highly valuable in Arsenal’s setup.


Who do you think should start for Arsenal against Aston Villa?

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