Having been out of the Arsenal squad since September 18, Theo Walcott made his return this past weekend against Southampton.
With a daunting schedule to close out the year, Walcott’s return gives the Gunners just the boost they’ve needed for the past two months. The biggest concern skeptics have had pertaining to Arsenal’s chances of making a legitimate title run is how the team would keep up its form with the glaring lack of depth.
Arsenal has been without a seasoned winger for the majority of the season due to injuries. Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott have all been absent since mid-September, forcing the Gunners to deploy central midfielders out wide.
But with Walcott’s return, Arsenal gains the much-needed elements of pace and unpredictability that can change the outcome of a match immediately. Slotting home 21 goals and adding 19 assists last season, he could be the missing piece the Gunners need to boost them from title contenders to title favorites. His return also strengthens the bench for each match, allowing the team to not have to dip into the reserves to fill the squad.
Walcott allows players such as Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil to rest occasionally to avoid burnout. It also gives the Gunners an alternative to Nicklas Bendtner when deciding on a backup striker to help Olivier Giroud up top.
The Gunners currently have a four-point lead over Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League. Before the year ends, Arsenal has to travel to Cardiff City (who have taken four out of a possible six points from the two Manchester clubs), Manchester City, West Ham United and Newcastle United. They also host Hull City, Everton and Chelsea. Toss in an away match against Napoli in the UEFA Champions League, and you’ve got quite the test to close out 2013.
Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain are also scheduled to return within the month, expanding the team depth even further before additions, if made, come in January.
If Walcott can help the squad string together wins in a difficult December, the Gunners just might have enough momentum to end the trophy drought this season.