Theo Walcott, you’ve come a long way baby

Back in April, Wenger was asked about why Theo Walcott had failed to kick on. Expectations for Walcott were high last season. Wenger had handed him a prime role as the center in Arsenal’s attack and Walcott had produced just five League goals and ten goals in all competitions. Walcott had started 23 times for Arsenal and was subbed on 21 times, playing just 2076 minutes and averaging a goal every 231 minutes of playing time. A terrible record for a center forward at any club and an impossibly poor record for a club like Arsenal.

Wenger stood by his man:

“Not as well as you could have expected,” Wenger said, describing Walcott’s return on the season “He had good periods in the season. I think recently he has gone through a much more difficult period. But he will come back.”

He didn’t come back that season. He finished the season without scoring another goal or notching another assist.

To be fair to Walcott, both the player and the manager didn’t seem to know what Walcott’s best role should be. Wenger admitted as much:

The problem with Theo is he wants to play on the right and through the middle. You have to fix yourself somewhere. When he does go through the middle he thinks maybe it’s better for me on the right. It’s true that I fixed him more through the middle, because of the quality of his runs and the intelligence of his runs. And he has improved his finishing a lot, so he can be a player through the middle. On the flanks today you have to work very hard defensively.

There’s the riddle of Theo Walcott. He wanted to be played through the middle but always felt more comfortable on the right. But if Wenger played him wide, Walcott was a liability because he would switch off defensively at times. Walcott was a man without a place.

And queue this pre-season. Walcott announces that he wants to play wide again and fans respond with derisive laughter. But Wenger, seeing something in training, is confident enough in Walcott that he loans out the more industrious Joel Campbell and reinstates Walcott on the right.

The trick worked. Walcott is now able to slide into the middle in the final phase of attack and use his superior finishing to punish teams. He also gives teams the frights down the wings with his speed. And he’s increased his defensive work rate for the team, playing more like a true wing player. Β We can see this in the stats.

Walcott has already made more successful tackles this season (26) than in any season before. In fact, he’s made more successful tackles this season than in the three prior seasons combined (22). His tackle success rate is up a bit this season from the last three (70%) and his combination of tackle attempts and winning percentage is his best ever rate.

The same can be said about his finishing. Looking at all of his shots and goals across all competitions, Walcott is finishing at a career high 22%. Anything above 15% is elite striker level finishing and so 22% is not something we should expect to continue until the end of the season. Though if it does, we should just say thanks and move on.

 

While Walcott’s finishing has improved, his ability to create from wide has dropped off. Walcott’s best ever season for Arsenal was 2012/13. He either scored or assisted in 35 goals that year. He’s “only” scored or assisted in 16 this season, which is actually similar to the number he put up last season. So he has quite a bit of work left to reach what I would consider his elite level of at least 30 goals created or scored.

Part of the reason for this drop in assists from Walcott (he has just 2 this season) is that he’s not creating as much for his teammates as he was in the past;

Again, that halcyon 2012/2013 season shows a player who was super active in all phases of play and easily Arsenal’s most important attacking threat. This season it looks more like his teammates Alexis, Ozil, and Iwobi are taking over the creative duties. This is freeing Walcott up to be the super finisher that Wenger said he would be last season.

Walcott has also vastly improved his dribbling. He’s never been a great dribbler but I suspect that he has worked on this aspect of his game throughout his career and it’s finally paying off with a 59% dribble rate this season.

One final word on Walcott. He’s not a perfect player, no one is. But his strengths are his speed and finishing. Against a team like Chelsea who both press high and who play with a back three, Walcott could find some joy. The 352 that Conte deploys leaves space in the wide areas. Also, the high press is typically broken by luring their midfielders in to press the center backs wide, who then hit long passes over the top. Theo Walcott is perfect for breaking this kind of play and the club he has scored the most goals against in his career is Chelsea, with 6.

Lucky number 7?

Qq

22 Comments on Theo Walcott, you’ve come a long way baby

  1. Great analysis and writing, as always. This is why I think Theo didn’t start on Tuesay. Mr Wenger is keeping his powder dry for the Chelsae game. Theo is just coming back from injury. It would be too much of a risk for him to play three games in one week. I have faith this rotation will pay off.

  2. It’s Groundhog Day! The most Arsenal day of the year.

    Will be beat Chelsea? No.

    Next!

    It’s really hard to care about Arsenal when a) their performances, season arcs, and season finishes have become so predictable the last ten years that there really is nothing new to say (though I thank God that someone like Tim manages to keep writing about them), and b) the nation I live in seems to be well on course to becoming a fascist dictatorship, and that phrase no longer seems hyperbolic but rather an increasingly likely scenario.

    • Arsenal players have probably given themselves a better platform to beat Chelsea by losing to Watford, than they would’ve by trashing them convincingly the way they did Southampton.

      Shame seems to be a better motivator for this bunch than anything else.

      After the 5:0 trashing of Southampton the groundwork for what took place in Tuesday had been firmly put in place. Glowing reviews by the manager, media, blogs and fans alike.
      When I brought to attention on another forum that Southampton played 10 matches in a month and 9 of their first team players were unavailable for Arsenal game, and as good as Arsenal performance was, it needed to be viewed in that prism, I was called some unflattering names.

      Getting embarrassed by Watford is a perfect motivation this team needed to prepare for Chelsea.
      I predict a 1:1 draw ,which would give Arsenal 4 points from the two Chelsea fixtures, after which Arsene can claim moral victory and blame the rest of the league teams for handling Chelsea the title πŸ™‚

    • Thanks to Tim for coming up a tiny ray of hope on the eve of the Chelsea match. But I think we will be beaten soundly because we have no midfield and even with a good midfield Conte’s would have been the favorite’s.

      Amazing to read about POTUS’s antics each and every day. I am not American but still it is very disturbing to see the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy behave like an arrogant teenager.

  3. What will probably happen against Chelsea is that we come out running and playing like hell, being competitive in every aspect of the game.
    And of course, we will lose.
    And then we’ll say “Aww gosh darnit why didn’t we play like this against Watford or Bournemouth or Middlesborough, if only we did this admirable defeat against Chelsea wouldn’t have been so bad”, and then we will wait for the Wenger “we were a bitz one low key” comment and then we start again and again and again and I’m really tired of watching and completely resigned and I feel like I’m really coming towards the end of me watching Arsenal until something really changes.

  4. Just want to take time to acknowledge the time and effort put into this post which is data-driven and well informed. Bravo sir.

    Also, I heard that Fatboy Slim reference in the title. And you are praising a good player like you should πŸ™‚

    Regarding the dilemma of our slow starts, Stillman has some ideas in his column over on Arseblog. He thinks the manager is torn between rewarding loyalty for good service from players like Giroud and Gabriel, and is letting that get in the way of sensible team selections on gameday. He also makes the point, and I fully agree, that the team has lost its attacking identity it established earlier in the season with Sanchez at the forefront and needs to get back to the more mobile, press oriented ethic it had displayed through October.

  5. Excellent goal from Hazard.
    Arsenal are a day late and a dollar short all over the pitch in their work rate on defense and their cohesiveness in attack.
    You cannot win a game where your midfield is impacted by injury and your star midfielder in a passenger.

      • It’s not his fault. He’s just weak and soft and hides in big games. The fault lies with Arsenal for keeping him for the last three years. Or not putting enough muscle around him to protect him. Or not moving the club to a league where they play soft and slow. He’d be great in Italy where teams just let you walk to the pass.

        • I don’t blame him for being the player he is; unique, magnificent, the best pure creative player in Europe. I also don’t blame him for being the player he isn’t: fiery, tenacious, physical (though he has improved since arriving at Arsenal in that regard). Great teams are built on exploiting the strengths of their best players and hiding their weaknesses. When the whole team is outmuscled and outworked by a unit like Chelsea, Ozil gets disproportionate blame but let’s not kid ourselves that he’s why we lost.

          The British pundits love to slag on the “big names” especially when they already have a reputation for not being very physical. Ozil gets through a ton of running in a match but it’s primarily on offense. When the midfield isn’t winning duels and isn’t finding his runs, it looks like he’s not doing anything. Walcott gets the same treatment when we get pantsed in big games because he’s not a defense first player either and his game revolves around being found on one of his runs. But you have to include players like that in order to create opportunities in transitions. Chelsea has been one of the best teams in the league at killing transition opportunities (where both Ozil and Theo thrive) primarily because they bought N’golo Kante and made him the centerpiece of a well drilled defensive unit which is high on confidence and yet to have a single major injury this season.

          • Well said doc.
            Also, there were other Arsenal players with poorer showings than Ozil’s today.
            Alexis must’ve misplaced more easy passes than I’ve ever seen him do.
            He also looked a step slower than usual. Makes you wonder what it takes for Wenger to sub him off when he’s not playing well.

            But apart for individual performances, it’s the structure that’s missing in our play. While it’s ok to promote free flowing, self expressing football on the offensive side, nothing of the sort will ever bear fruit on the defensive side of things.
            The fact that our shortest player on the pitch , Bellerin, had to put in two aerial challenges in a row against much taller Costa and Alonso, in the area where a central defender should’ve been , says it all really.

            And just to add to your Ozil opinion, I was on the record saying that Ozil didn’t need to add another dimension to his game to be a successful Arsenal player.
            More goals , more hassle, more grit, are all things he could posible add to his game in the ideal world, but none of these have been necessary for the German national team apparently, or Real Madrid before that.

            Wenger seems to thrive on trying to reinvent the wheel but in Ozil’s case I thought the wheel was perfect the way it was. It’s the other parts of machinery that needed tweaking.

  6. Well, so much for this season’s PL title. I want to say a lot of mean things about Chelsea but the truth is they were the better team today and for more of the season than us, so fair is fair. It’s hard to see them fielding their first choice XI game after game while we are reduced to two wingers in CM but that’s part of the game.

    For Arsenal, we still have the FA cup (and the mirage of the CL) and we want to finish above everyone else, so plenty to play for but this is a gut wrenching loss to a familiar foe which is going to leave a bad taste for a long long time.

  7. The question that needs to be asked is does a different manager and these same players get a different result. Can these same players get us a different result with a new manager?
    WTF did Wenger see or not see tactically from his lofty perch and was unable to make adjustments at half-time?
    Chelsea are now a stark blueprint as to haw a new manager and one addition (Kante) can rejuvenate a team. We need to find a Conte (not a 3-5-2 manager but a new voice with new ideas) and a new ‘Kante’ because Coquelin is not the answer and Xhaka may not be either.

    • That is the question but rather than trying to replicate what someone else is doing we have to find our own identity and build our own strengths through players who are mostly already here. This is not a squad in need of a rebuild.

      What’s been especially troubling for me this season is a lack of team identity with and without the ball.

      • Conte himself says it well:

        “When I was in Italy I liked to say, no, that the manager, the coach is like a tailor,” Conte said during his presentation in July. β€œA tailor who must build a dress, the best dress for the team.”

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