The Arsenal Column

Arsenal Analysis and Tactics. All views expressed are those of Pat Rice. (Disclaimer: they are actually not his words).

Theo Walcott deserves more credit for being a key player for Arsenal

Now that Cesc Fábregas is no more, there is a spot vacant for the player who personifies Arsenal the most. Robin van Persie might be it because of the goals he has scored and also being the incumbent of the captain’s armband. But more suited might be Jack Wilshere who, is not only homegrown, but has a glide and spontaneity on the ball that is supposed to represent the new Arsenal. However, it might be Theo Walcott who defines Arsenal most at the moment. A “product” of Project Youth, on his day he can be scintillating but he is clearly a player who thrives on confidence. The 7-1 win over Blackburn Rovers brought Arsenal and also, Theo Walcott, back to form but as Miguel Delaney writes for Eircom, it tells us little about Arsenal. “But then that’s the point,” he says. “On the day, Arsene Wenger’s side completely exploited one of the most porous and mentally fragile backlines in the league, with that circumstance only going so far as to perpetuate Arsenal’s own confidence.”

One must hope the win results in an upsurge of form because Blackburn was the kind of beleaguered opponents that Arsenal thrive upon and should dismantle given their style. And that they did that can only be positive for their confidence. Walcott made three assists – as good as three goals says van Persie – and he’s certainly buzzing. Perhaps the assists are better for his confidence than goals because it reasserts what he is doing is correct. “The goals are a secondary thing,” he said after the win. Indeed, earlier in the season, he seemed to play with an agenda; in an attempt to demonstrate to Arsene Wenger he can play as a central striker. He has since found that more difficult to prove as chances are harder to come by on the flanks. It might happen only once a match which means Walcott must be alert to it, otherwise the tight defences make it nigh on impossible at times, to get behind. “When I was younger, my team-mates would kick it behind the defense and I’d run onto it and score,” he told Arsenal Magazine last year. “It’s not that easy anymore.”

Nevertheless, Walcott’s movement is usually excellent and it’s a key feature for Arsenal in breaking down tough, defensive sides. By hugging the touchline, he’s opening space for Arsenal’s passers to work it before darting in off the flanks to get onto the end of it. If it doesn’t pay off, he picks himself up and tries it again. Indeed, if anything, it’s a good tactic to stop him being marked out of games. “If you are on the flanks, you have to make the runs anyway. You can’t stay quiet on the wings and Arsenal are not the sort of team who will cross it anyway. We try and walk it into the net,” says Walcott.

Walcott’s influence has grown with Arsenal’s new system. He’s playing a duel role on the right of the front three – either looking to play somebody in with his movement (his style is rarely focused on dribbling and more on the timing of runs) – or get on the end of it himself. Wenger has stated he is working Walcott more defensively because he’s also acting as a buoy in the system – a balancer in Arsenal’s forward mechanisms. With Gervinho or Andrey Arshavin on the other side, his tracking back allows them to stay up the pitch and play with freedom. Now, the breakthrough of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – the player some harshly argue Walcott should have been – seems to have increased his competition but it might liberate him. Oxlade-Chamberlain is more of a natural winger thus it should decrease some of expectations that have been bestowed upon Walcott in that role. Indeed, while Walcott seemed to revel in Francis Coquelin’s overlaps against Blackburn, the stretching of play on the other side gave Walcott more room to make his runs. He had a couple of opportunities against Manchester United following Oxlade-Chamberlain’s good work too. “It is very very difficult to affect the game against a side like Arsenal, they keep possession really well, they kept their wide players wide all game and that made it difficult for us,” said Blackburn manager Steve Kean after the defeat.

Walcott's presence in the line-up always forces the full-back to look over his shoulder. Against Blackburn, he constantly looked to get behind and as Arsenal's wingers stayed up the pitch, he forced the defence to narrow, creating the space for him to run unmarked.

Wenger has indicated it’s a possibility we might see Walcott play up front; if Arsenal keep the ball well, it might just be a viable option. There’s no doubt he has much to improve and he must understand movement and speed is not enough. Wenger has used Walcott has a counter-attacking capacity from corner-kicks (coincidentally, they’ve scored the most goals from fast breaks this season, 6) and any success in that medium might fast track him into a striker.

As Arsenal's specialised player, Theo Walcott's evolution this season is best highlighted by his dribbles statistic - he's embarked on less this season and plays higher up the pitch. Perhaps it's a sign that Walcott is becoming smarter in his play.

It’s Walcott’s ability to allow Arsenal break away from the endless triangular patterns which they create which makes him such a crucial factor in the side’s and therefore, it’s about time he’s got the recognition he deserves. Selected for the World Cup 2006 manifested a false idea of what Walcott should be as a player and as such, he’s found it hard to develop into the player he promises to be. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s breakthrough might just afford him the time away from the spotlight he deserves. And maybe recognition might come then.

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20 Responses to “Theo Walcott deserves more credit for being a key player for Arsenal”

  1. frankie frankie says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Walcott can be incredibaly frustrating but he is valuable to the team. Oxlade has come to the forefront this season and it has lead everyone to jump pn Walcotts back and give him a pretty uneeded slagging off. Trust me if Walcott leaves he will go to a side that will play him upfront and he will score goals.

    I’m not saying he is the best in the world but he needs to be treated with more respect by the Arsenal fan. I have been a fan for 22 years and i have seen a lot of crap player come our way but Theo is not one of them. I truely think he will score alot more once the whole team improves. This season has been poor but you can see when the team is playing well and buzzing so is Theo. Rarely do you see the team play well and Theo rubbish or Theo play well and the team rubbish. I’m not suggesting he controls the team but mearly saying he is a confidence player and you could see they early goal assist last weekend got him flying. His crossing is always going to be poor but his shooting accuracy is not bad although his conversion rate should be higher. I was watching soccer saturday last week and saw Robbie Fowler slag him off a bit and was so happy to see Walcott had had a good game, and may be not shut the critics up, bt at least just give them a little nod to say i can do it.

    The Ox has had a fantastic start and taken the focus off Walcott but those fans slagging him off need to shut up and back him. There are far worse players in our squad and anyone who says we should sell clearly don’t now anything about football. Walcott might not be the best and The Ox might surpass his efforts but he is far from Rubbish and far from a player who should be sold.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

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  2. shrek2be says:

    I think Walcott proved me wrong (once) in my assumption that he wouldn’t be able to dribble with the buildup to Arsenal’s 5th goal against Rovers. But I still feel he needs more composure while dribbling in the box and occasionally should try learning/attempting a reverse pass. That being said, I agree with the point that he does need space to thrive and a good CAM/CM to consistently feed through balls to him.

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    shrek2be Reply:

    Additional comments here: I think Walcott is so effective because RVP has learnt how to read Walcott’s passes & runs and Theo has in turn learned where to put the ball to RVP. Again I’ll reiterate this: give too much time to Theo on the ball he’ll flounder,keep it fast and he’ll thrive.

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @shrek2be,

    Part of why he was so effective for 2/3′s of last season was because of that understanding between, not only him and van Persie, but the rest of the team. Perhaps this season that has been slower coming to the fore; let’s not forget Arsenal have changed their emphasis to the flanks and he’s having to do more earlier on. I think part of his dispossessed stats and the low number of dribbles may reflect that; he’s being tackled at the start or end of moves rather during.

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  3. K-TR7 says:

    Good read Brain.Theo like most of the team has struggled this season.when cesc/nasri left we have struggled to forge an identity.of late however it seems like the jigsaw pieces are finally coming into place.the games against Man utd/Villa/Bolton showed how we were marrying a quick tempo direct style with possession style in the middle.against Bolton these two were evident in our 2nd and 6th goals against B’burn.Santos at Lb with his infield runs and jack with his gliding and driving runs would’ve made it even clearer to the post fabregas era philosophy but its clear as day the wheels are in motion for Wengerball 4.

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  4. K-TR7 says:

    Theo is an instinctive player.when we play at full pace he is devastating.its also telling that our most recent purchases are indicative of Arsene’s new Arsenal.with Ryo/Oxo/Gerv we have quick forwards but still retaining our technical ability in the middle to beat teams that pressure us in the middle.

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    Jared Reply:

    @K-TR7,
    I’m trying to understand how Arsenal can play possession football and be direct at the same time ?
    Is it that certain players will keep possession of the ball far longer than some allowing other players to concentrate on attacks , or the whole team will attack far more quickly spending less time circulating the ball, not allowing the opposition time to park the bus. ?

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  5. Jared says:

    “Wenger has indicated it’s a possibility we might see Walcott play up front; if Arsenal keep the ball well, it might just be a viable option. ”

    Would that mean a change in the formation ? or Wenger giving RVP a rest and using Theo upfront instead ?

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  6. Ali says:

    I choose to counter what has been said already. With the emergence of the Ox, and the return if Gervinho, we may potentially have those two as our starting wingers/fwds alongside RVP, however knowing Wenger, he won’t be as cynical to displace Theo just like that and rush the Ox too much. Inherent in Walcott’s game is the inability to cross, take on his man, make the right choice and shoot, and finish with compusure. On the counter attack Theo is a very useful outlet indeed, but we are a team who control the game rather than waiting for the chance to cou nter-attack. Why should we have only one capable winger on the flanks and theo on. Th other? Man utd have Nani and Valencia, Chelsea Mata and sturridge etc… A team of our stature should have players like Gervinho and Hazard starting and have people like Theo and The Ox on the bench.

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  7. K-TR7 says:

    @jared What i meant is that right now we are playing a 3 striker system that has lots of pace.when we win the ball that gives us the option to break very quickly before defenders can settle.they provide that dynamism in our play.if that is not possible our midfield 3 can still circulate the ball looking for that opening as shown by our 6th goal against B’burn.with that we can play both direct and possession play in the same match.however,our tiki taka won’t be as good as when we had cesc/nasri who were ball magnets but still better than most.

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    Jared Reply:

    @K-TR7,

    Cool thanks for the reply.

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  8. John says:

    No sympathy from me – I want him out and I think Wenger coaching leaves a lot to be desired – 6 years and no improvement in Theo. New contract – you must be joking.

    At best a 75th minute sub – don’t like it? – then get out and take Djourou with you – it can’t be true that he is getting a new contract can it? – you couldn’t make it up! (Sky report).

    Theo played well on Saturday but against a poor team and the fact that he’s had 00′s of undeserved games brings the law of averages into it – he is bound to come up trumps occasionally. Blind squirrels find a nut now and then.

    Sorry!

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    Dave Reply:

    I think it’s most telling when you notice that the whole squad loves having Theo in the team. RVP sings his praises at every opportunity and England are a very average team without him (as evident by their showing in the last World Cup). He is one of those rare players where even just his presence on the pitch can affect a match, with defenders dropping deeper to compensate for his pace.
    Yes he needs to work on his finishing and needs to be more consistent, but he is slowly getting there.
    He would walk into any team in the EPL (and ignorant Arsenal fans still wouldn’t understand why).

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    RedCore Reply:

    @Dave,
    Exactly what I think about Theo. The mere presence of someone as fast as him makes defences drop back. Wenger knows more than anyone else that Theo is unlikely to become a Robben like dribbler that people want him to be and at times loses composure unlike natural footballers like Wilshere. But there is a reason why even Messi was afraid of playing him.

    Its not like Theo has not improved, he used to drift in and out of matches a lot but now he is contributing in someway: pressing high up the pitch, tracking back and defending. I also see him trying to knock the ball past defenders and run on to it on his own rather than wait for a through ball like he used to. Whenever he has had a proper overlapping fullback behind him this season he has made an impact more often that not and with time his finishing will become more composed.

    I think Arsenal column hit the nail on the head by saying “Selected for the World Cup 2006 manifested a false idea of what Walcott should be as a player and as such, he’s found it hard to develop into the player he promises to be.”

    Could not state it any better than that!! Well done.

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  9. CB says:

    Sorry to want to deal with facts rather than ‘he’s had 00′s of undeserved games brings the law of averages into it – he is bound to come up trumps occasionally’ bollocks.

    Below are interesting stats posted by ‘Ian Wright is a legend’ on Arsenal Truth (though the knob that runs Arsenal Truth wasn’t so sure or able to give any reasoned comments to throw light upon them). They compare Theo and RVP at 22.

    Here is how they measure up (remember Theo’s season hasn’t even finished yet), both are/were playing wide right.

    Season League
    Apps Goals Assists
    RVP aged 22 2005–06 24 5 1
    Theo aged 22 2011–12 23 3 7
    Season Cup
    Apps Goals Assists
    RVP aged 22 2005–06 7 4 0
    Theo aged 22 2011–12 2 1 0
    Season Europe
    Apps Goals Assists
    RVP aged 22 2005–06 7 2 0
    Theo aged 22 2011–12 6 2 1
    Season Total
    Apps Goals Assists
    RVP aged 22 2005–06 38 11 1
    Theo aged 22 2011–12 31 6 10

    Also given RVP’s comments

    “I love him, I honestly love him,” said Van Persie. “I don’t understand the criticism. On Saturday he gave three very clear assists, two for me and one for Alex.

    “He was sharp, he was playing fantastically and, like anyone, he misses chances. But I miss chances. Ronaldo misses chances, Messi misses chances. It’s life, you know.

    “Sometimes I feel that people are a bit harsh on him. I don’t know why. If you look at his assists rate then it is unbelievable.

    “And he will score. Trust me, he will score. He will get 20 goals at least every season. You will see. Have faith in him.

    “He has given me so many assists. And for me, if you give an assist then it is worth a goal, especially if you give a great assist. It is as important as scoring a goal. For me he gave two simple tap-ins. That makes it more his goal than my goal.”

    Please feel free to argue against these, if you can do so using facts.

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  10. Eurazian says:

    I think right now we don’t have the sort of team that can consistently get the best out of Theo. Sagna coming back will help, but we need a better creative player in midfield to put Theo clean through.
    But Theo will be forever an inconsistent player until he greatly improves his dribbling. He struggles to create things on his own in the way that Gervinho and the Ox can; he needs someone to play him in. Likewise, he needs a lot of space to run into which often negates his impact against teams who sit deep and park the bus.

    Btw, the player that most personifies Arsenal is probably Diaby. Great technical talents, prone to brain farts, and ruined due to injury.

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  11. MartianMave says:

    I’m with John-no sympathy for the player in question.
    He’s not exactly as pathetic many people make him to be,and could still become a better player,but good enough for arsenal??

    No way!We deserve better!

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  12. kaneprior says:

    Walcott relies on the team to play well. He needs an overlapping fullback and a clever striker who can create space for him. Walcott couldnt be playing with a better striker in that regard, Van persie is a very clever player and his partnership with Walcott is very good. Walcott can then make runs inside into the penalty area and then he is a massive threat. He is the sort of player that cant win or turn around a game single handedly, but will provide the penetration and finish when a team is dominating.

    This season his finishing hasnt been good enough, he has had the chances and wasted them, which is really dissapointing. I dont think he needs to work on crossing, but his dribbling does need to be better, because when a team is defending deep, he needs to be able to come inside and dribble past players.

    Otherwise i think he is an excellent player, if he can improve his finishing (mental issue) and improve his dribbling skills, he can help Arsenal challenge for the title.

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  13. Woolwich Peripatetic says:

    Anyone actually watching our games can see just what Theo brings to the side. For any given match you can guarantee the following will happen:
    Theo runs with the ball towards goal. The left fullback closes up with the left centreback to crowd him away from goal, the right centreback, instead of stepping up to mark RvP, comes over to cover for the other defenders in case Theo gets through. If we have a proper right back then the opposition left back comes out to meet him and both centrebacks cover Theo. RvP is now in acres of space in front of goal and all Theo has to do is pass to him or to a team-mate who can either pass to RvP or shoot themselves. RvP is so effective because others are creating space for him and Theo is one of our most effective space creators, hence why RvP is so appreciative.

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  14. Wrenny says:

    Walcott continues to progress at a steady pace. His first touch, his ability to hold the ball under pressure, his movement, his decision-making have all seen great improvement. His errant finishing this season comes down to a lack of confidence rather than a lack of ability. There were many examples last season of how he can take chances with aplomb when his confidence is high. But while he hasn’t been as prominent at finishing chances this season his ability to create for others, mainly Van Persie, has come to the fore. His dribbling must be the aspect of his game that attracts the most criticism, and he doesn’t go past his fullback as regularly as I might hope for a player of his speed. For me this again comes down to confidence; I’ve seen Theo take the ball and run with it instinctively, fearlessly, through and around challenges, enough times to know he can do it when he believes he can.

    It seems as if so far in his career Theo has had phases – first being a dangerous dribbler with little end product, then a composed goalscorer struggling to make an impact in the build-up play, and now finds himself in a creative period producing the right passes into the right areas but struggling for goals himself. He’s yet to pull it all together – the finishing, the creativity, and the dribbling. But it feels like he’s getting very close. Once he does he has the potential to be close to unplayable.

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