Don’t Blame Theo

“Two words will probably haunt Sven Goran Eriksson for the rest of his career: Theo Walcott. Eriksson may have thought that the Arsenal teenager was going to be his Michael Owen in Germany in 2006. But the erratic decision backfired and for most coaches, confirmed the value of experience over youth.” Gavin Hamilton of World Soccer

For one thing, it’s quite speculative if not simply inaccurate to say that Sven “thought that the Arsenal teenager was going to be his Michael Owen in Germany in 2006.” I don’t remember ever reading or hearing Sven state anything close to having such high expectations of our injured (again) winger/striker. Theo was given a place in the World Cup squad but so was Stewart Downing. The over-rated Stewart Downing!

Isn’t that the selection that backfired?

Sven was criticized then for picking Theo but what real harm was there in picking him? At worst, he was given a spot that could have gone to another (non-existent) player who might have been more experienced and better equipped to make a difference to England’s ultimate fate. At best, he provided opposition in training for the England Left Back and competition for other wingers/strikers in the squad.

Who else was available at the time?

Sven picked and played Stewart Downing. Stewart Downing!!! STEWART DOWNING can say that he has played in a FIFA World Cup Finals tournament. WTF?!?!?

The idea that Sven made a mistake picking Theo was overblown in 2006 and it is equally over the top today to suggest that an “erratic decision backfired.” How was it erratic? If just one place in a squad of 23 players makes as big a difference as Mr. Hamilton has suggested, then the player surely must be worthy of greater expectation than was Theo. If Theo had been picked instead of Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, or even Aaron Lennon, I’d understand. He wasn’t. Those players were there. Theo was never expected to be the type of player who’d make that big a big difference.

Again, I ask which player was available who fits that profile?

That Theo was selected was more a reflection of the lack of choices for the England manager than a mistake. Some went as far as suggesting that it was Arsene Wenger who twisted Sven’s arm to pick Theo. Wenger, like any manager looking for an advantage that would benefit his player and club, promoted the idea but every other manager with a promising young player at his cllub was free to do the same.

The idea that it “backfired” leaves me scratching my head. Was Theo’s inclusion what kept England from reaching the final? I fully accept that experience is a must at any FIFA World Cup Final. The squad had experienced players in Beckham, Campbell, Neville, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Carragher, Terry, and Ashley Cole. Moreover, England’s best player (since Matt LeTissier and Paul Gascoigne) for the period before the emergence of Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, was not available for selection anyway.

Sven’s choice to bring Theo was not why England stumbled and were eventually knocked out. Look at the names listed below and among them you will see an aggregate of (non-)contributors more responsible for England’s demise than Theo.

The England 2006 World Cup squad:

1 GK ROBINSON Paul – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
2 DF NEVILLE Gary – (Manchester Utd., ENG)
3 DF COLE Ashley – (Arsenal, ENG)
4 MF GERRARD Steven – (Liverpool, ENG)
5 DF FERDINAND Rio – (Manchester Utd., ENG)
6 DF TERRY John – (Chelsea, ENG)
7 MF BECKHAM David – (Real Madrid, ESP)
8 MF LAMPARD Frank – (Chelsea, ENG)
9 FW ROONEY Wayne – (Manchester Utd., ENG)
10 FW OWEN Michael – (Newcastle, ENG)
11 MF COLE Joe – (Chelsea, ENG)
12 DF CAMPBELL Sol – (Arsenal, ENG)
13 GK JAMES David – (Manchester City, ENG)
14 DF BRIDGE Wayne – (Chelsea, ENG)
15 DF CARRAGHER Jamie – (Liverpool, ENG)
16 MF HARGREAVES Owen – (Bayern Munich, GER)
17 MF JENAS Jermaine – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
18 MF CARRICK Michael – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
19 MF LENNON Aaron – (Tottenham Hotspur, ENG)
20 MF DOWNING Stewart – (Middlesbrough, ENG)
21 FW CROUCH Peter – (Liverpool, ENG)
22 GK GREEN Robert – (Norwich, ENG)
23 FW WALCOTT Theo – (Arsenal, ENG

The core of that last England team is still around and in their peak years. I would argue that this is England’s best chance to win a World Cup in a very long time. Potential though (as we Arsenal fans know) is a door that stays open for but so long.

If Theo is fit in time to make make a difference to Arsenal winning something this year, he might have another chance to be part of a group that fails and no doubt he’ll get to shoulder the blame. But who knows what they’ll do in South Africa! Remember, Capello is no mug.

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The No. 1

Currently, Arsenal lack a world class goalkeeper.

We have the demoted Manuel Almunia, a world class backup goalkeeper.

We have Lukasz Fabianski, out injured since the Valencia preseason friendly.

We have Vito Mannone, an inexperienced Italian goalkeeper who doesn’t play like an Italian goalkeeper.

We have Wojciech Szczesny, an even more inexperienced goalkeeper with a great build and tons of potential.

I’ve already said enough about Almunia. I don’t believe he’s capable of being a world class goalkeeper. Even at the height of his Arsenal powers, he wasn’t even close to getting a cap or a call up to the Spanish squad. That he tried to qualify for the England team tells you more about the state of English goalkeepers than it does the quality of Almunia. To me, Manuel performed best when motivated to displace Jens, who was a fantastic goalkeeper. When he got there and he attained some security, his performances haven’t been as steady. Unfortunately for Manuel, I’ll always remember him for giving up two goals to Barcelona in the Champions League Final. You may think I’m being harsh, but you’ll never convince me that he couldn’t have done better. He’s been out with a “chest infection,” and now that he’s back, he must be unhappy to not be playing. Cheeky Wenger is, how many players have had “injuries” in the name of real rotation?

Vito Mannone has committed two errors in the last two Premier League fixtures. The Birmingham one didn’t affect us in the long run, but the West Ham one sure did. But I’m not going to be too hard on him. He is extremely young, and he didn’t play much football at all when he was nurtured at Atalanta. Blinder against Fulham aside, the mark of a true number one goalkeeper is dealing with all chances at all times. When you play for a big club, you only have to make a few saves per game. But when you have those shots against you, you must deal with them superbly. People can extol the virtues of Shay Given, but were he goalkeeper for Arsenal or Manchester United, things may be different. Look at what’s happened with Ben Foster. Vito is one for the future. He is still not commanding when it comes to communicating with the backline, but he is brave and has a good build. I wish he would show a bit more anger at times, but that’s just a personal preference. He’s just not really ready yet.

The same can apply to Szczesny. I think he’s an extremely intriguing prospect, but he’s had even less playing time than Mannone. Some say that they rate him as highly as Mannone. He is a colossus and played well in the last Carling Cup tie. Keep an eye out for him.

Which brings me to Lukasz Fabianski. Many are unconvinced by him, and they have a decent right to think that way. He has given up near post goals, and his birthday performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup was disastrous. That being said, at the age of 24, he has been capped by Poland 14 times. He was handpicked by Wenger over false hopes like Craig Gordon. He has outstanding reflexes. He plays with the aggression that I like. He was handed a three year contract at the end of the last season. I really believe in this guy. I think he should be given a chance to be the Arsenal No. 1 and see what he’s capable of. Only a stretch of games can illustrate if you have a winner or a dud.

And if none of these options work out, we may need to buy in January. Who is available? Beats me, although names like Manuel Neuer and Akinfeev float around. But to me, we’re a goalkeeper away from being world beaters. Whether or not the solution already plays for Arsenal remains to be seen.

As for Liverpool today in the Carling Cup, it’ll be a mixture of players from the Reserves and the First Team. Liverpool will have been buoyed by the result against United, but our young players are hungry and our team wants the result after the last two disappointing draws. We play at home, and that gives some of our more enthusiastic fans to experience Arsenal football tonight. I look forward to this very much.