Player analysis: The curious and inconsistent case of Theo Walcott

by 2 years ago · 5 minute read

If any one player has personified Arsenal’s season to date, it has been Theo Walcott. Unfortunately, Walcott has been the butt of criticism from many Arsenal supporters for his erratic play and there is no better example of this than last Sunday’s 5-2 pounding of Spuds. In the first half, Martin Tyler rarely called Walcott’s name, but by the 70th minute, he had scored two goals.

So why has Theo been so erratic? There are a multitude of factors that ultimately affect his performances and this article will take a look at these factors as well as some statistics about Walcott’s performances for Arsenal this season.

The numbers

Before we go any further, lets first take a look at Theo’s statistics for the year so far – Man of the Match and Average Rating numbers are based on WhoScored.com’s algorithms using Opta data.

Apps Goals Assists Shots Per Game Pass Success Man of the Match1 Avg Rating1
23 (2) 5 7 2.4 81% 0 6.78

As we can see, Theo has been far from clinical in front of goal, however he has passed the ball well and also has set up his teammates well. His seven assists put him in a tie for eighth (with Gareth Bale, Samir Nasri, and Stephane Sessegnon) in total assists in The Premier League amongst all players.

Theo’s average rating for the season is 6.78 which is just a little below the bench mark of seven, so this tells us on the whole, he has been solid. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Walcott, as we all know, has had games where he disappeared and games when he has absolutely ravaged defences, so here are Theo’s best and worst performances of the year, according to WhoScored.com;

Top 5 Games
1. Feb 4th – Blackburn (H) – 8.90
2. Feb 26th – Tottenham (H) – 8.64
3. Nov 19th – Norwich (A) – 8.10
4. Oct 29th – Chelsea (A) – 7.92
5. Nov 26th – Fulham (H) – 7.59
Worst 5 Games
1. Aug 20th – Liverpool (H) – 5.47
2. Feb 11th – Sunderland (A) – 5.71
3. Feb 15th – AC Milan (A) – 5.87
4. Feb 1st – Bolton (A) – 5.92
5. Jan 22nd – Man Utd (H) – 5.92

After looking at the matches above, we can see that four of Theo’s five worst games have come in the last couple of weeks. So it is safe to assume that he is in a poor run of form, but what makes things even weirder is that two of his five best performances have come in the same time span. Until late January, Walcott had been playing fairly consistent football (with ratings usually in the 6.5 to 7.5 range), so why have his performances all of the sudden gone between very bad and very good?

Theo goes as the team goes

This may sound obvious but generally, Walcott only plays as good as the team does. Walcott, as much as we want him to be (and what makes it worse is he has shown flashes) is not a match winner. He is just simply not a world-class player. Is he bad? No. But he is no Henry.

So looking a little more closely at the best and worst Theo has produced this year; we can see that three of his top five performances came during Arsenal’s best team performances, which includes this weekend’s demolition of Spuds. On the flip side, we can also see that his worst run of the season has also coincided with the team’s low point of the season.

When Theo is at his best

Theo Walcott is at his best when he is allowed to play to his strengths, like all players. Those are his pace and his off the ball movement. Theo Walcott capitalises off of Robin van Persie’s movement into the midfield to link up play. When this happens he is able to run into the space that RvP has created and get in behind defences.

Walcott scores the match winner in the second leg of Arsenal's Champions League qualifying game against Udinese

Essentially, Walcott plays as poacher-ish type player in Arsene Wenger’s system (even though he is deployed on the right wing – you can read more about how Wenger transformed wingers into wide poachers here). He is expected to contribute to the team by using his movement off the ball and pace to drag opposition players out of position and open up space for his teammates to exploit as well as getting in behind defences and scoring goals.

Because of this, Theo excels against teams that want to attack against us and/or play with high defensive lines. See the Chelsea game at the Bridge and last weekend’s North London derby. Both teams played with a high defensive line during the game and Theo Walcott was able to get in behind both defences and create havoc for the opposition.

Theo also excels when he doesn’t have to assist in the build up play. Any time he can stay on the shoulder of the last defender or there about he is much more dangerous. A great example of this is last weekend’s game as well. With Yossi Benayoun on the left drifting in to the midfield to link up with Tomas Rosicky and help build play, Walcott was free to drift around and look to run in behind the Tottenham defense.

When Theo is at his worst

On the other hand, Theo struggles against teams that want to sit deep and play on the break against Arsenal. When this happens, Theo is limited in the space he can run into and doesn’t have the technique to consistently beat his marker one on one. And most of the time he is doubled up when this happens.

Walcott also struggles when he is forced to be involved heavily in the build up play. This often happens when teams sit deep and soak up pressure against Arsenal but when he is forced back into midfield to help link and build play it forces him to rely on technique and nullifies his pace.

Theo Walcott thrives on exploiting space off the ball and when he doesn’t have much to exploit he often disappears from matches. As you can see, all five of Theo’s worst matches this year came when up against defensive minded teams that sat deep and didn’t allow him any space to run into.

How to get Walcott to play his best consistently

So how can Arsene Wenger consistently get the best out of Mr. Walcott? Here are three few things that can help Theo become a bit more consistent:

1. Play a creative player opposite of Theo Walcott.
When Arsenal plays a true winger on the left opposite him, Arsenal become very direct. This is fine if we are playing on the break against a Chelsea or someone like that, but up against teams that sit uber deep this can leave Arsenal lacking in creativity. However, with a creative player opposite Walcott, it will take a lot of the ball retention responsibilities off of him and allow him to play his natural game.

2. Don’t be afraid to rotate.
What I mean by this is Arsene shouldn’t be afraid to leave Theo on the bench every now and then. When we come up against teams that intend to park the bus, it would behoove The Boss to play someone with more technique and creativity to help break down the wall in front of goal. After all, pace is only good if you have somewhere to run. Plus sometimes a rest can be what a player needs to find his form again (unless you’re Marouane Chamakh).

3. Theo the super sub!
Bringing Walcott off the bench could be potentially deadly. Anytime someone with pace comes in against tired legs it makes him that much more dangerous. Plus, if he comes one while Arsenal are trying to hold a one goal lead late, he instantly makes them that much more dangerous on the counter. Also he would add another dimension to attack if we were chasing a game. Does this mean that I think Walcott should come off the bench for every game? No. But it would certainly make sense to drop him for some games in which he won’t have the best chance of excelling.

Conclusion

So after looking at the numbers and factors that go into Theo Walcott’s play, I think its fair that say that despite he very odd current run of form where he plays very bad, then very good (sometimes within the same game) he has been fairly steady this season. But to be fair to Theo, he is sometimes put into situations where it is going to be hard for him to excel based on his playing style.

So with that being said it is up to his manger to make sure he is put in a situation where he can excel and use his best attributes to play his natural game. And when this happens, we can see how deadly Theo Walcott can be to opposition defences. Just ask ‘Arry.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/ahmed.n.ibra Ahmed N. Ibrahim

    I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis, Miss. Walcott is a valuable that not many teams have. He, if put in the right match at the right time, can potentially win you game single-handedly. I wrote this just after the carnival we set up in the emirates vs spu*s in response to someone saying that Walcott is still shite.

    ” It’s easy to dismiss players and simply say they’re shit. 

    I like him, what he lacks in technique he makes up for with devastating pace, intelligent movement and the recently obvious mental strength. That first half would destroy the confidence of any man, but he came back with two Henry-esque finishes that need real calm and icy nerves. His first goal sums this player for anyone. Excellent movement, horrifying speed, bad first touch, quick recovery and a cheeky finish. The only way I could fault him is his consistency and that’s Wenger’s work. Le Prof should notice what gets him going like this and always provides him with it, tactically and mentally. One thing is for sure though, he needs space, loads of it.  ”   
    but of course this is no analysis by any stretch of imagination, more like ramble. 

    He’ll be of such a great value on Saturday and he must start. Liverpool will come at us with numbers and ocean-like spaces will open up 

  • Dnvnsmikle

    Very much true. I agree with all the points mentioned, especially about him out wide. A wider role requires a player with a little more patience, craft and intelligence – however he is actually meant to be a inside forward rather than a wide midfielder, what you failed to mention is that the coaching staff does not seem to know when to play him or against which teams. Wallcott likes to get on the end of things as they say in England so when playing against deep lying teams then ball to feet will not be suitable for such a player, give him something to chase, diagonals will be very good in these situations but Arsenal midfielders dont generally go for longer range passes so also there is a clash in styles with him and the tendencies of most of the players in the team. Though not my favorite player because of his limited all round game to be fair to him I would like to see him in his preferred central role though I very much suspect he has to play with a support striker to be efficient in this capacity.

  • http://twitter.com/bcfisher2 Brian Fisher

    Glad you enjoyed it, although I’m not a miss ;).

  • http://www.facebook.com/ahmed.n.ibra Ahmed N. Ibrahim

    shit, i thought i was taking to Ix . My bad, Brian :D .

  • http://twitter.com/StormyRosicky Bharat Kumar

    plus he needs to improve on his crossing…if he can’t beat a marker he must at least cross the ball!

  • http://www.arsenalreport.com/ Ix Techau

    Agree with the points on how to use him best. With The Ox on the opposite flank, Theo can disappear. However, if they start an understanding together, their combined directness could be devastating to use for some opposition, especially better teams who won’t sit back.

  • Wrenny

    Interesting analysis. I’d like to add a couple of thoughts.

    1. The tactical value of Walcott. While he might not excel in games against ‘park the bus’ teams, his mere presence can also be what is pushing those teams back. While a ‘parked bus’ situation will usually see Theo himself struggle to have an impact, he might be affording the rest of the team more time and space to build up play as opposition become reticent about pressing us too high. Quite literally, taking one for the team.

    2. Another way to get Walcott to play his best consistently could be to use a centre-forward who offers a real threat in the air. Ignoring the fact it’s not very Arsenal-like to pump crosses into the box, or how RVP would fit in to such a system, it poses a conundrum for the opposition. They’ll want to keep a big, strong CF away from their goal, which they do by playing a higher line. Which would of course play straight into Walcott’s hands (or feet). Obviously the opposition may decide staying deep is the lesser of two evils, particularly if we don’t deliver dangerous balls to make good on the aerial threat, but I think it’s worth some consideration. After all we did acquire Chamakh, and appear to be following Olivier Giroud rather closely according to Gilles Grimandi.

  • http://twitter.com/bcfisher2 Brian Fisher

    Good points. I think point number two is very good. It would be interesting to see which way teams decide to play us if we had an ariel threat that could get off the bench.

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  • Jezhubbard87

    So how would you play then?

    I would love to see an article offering some suggestions on what arsenal can do to get out of this mess.

  • http://twitter.com/bcfisher2 Brian Fisher

    What do you mean by play? Are you talking selection? Tactics? 

  • http://twitter.com/bcfisher2 Brian Fisher

    You may be right that Theo is better than Henry was at 22 (Many Arsenal fans, my self included forget how young he is due to the fact that he has been in the first team for four years or so). It will be interesting to see how he keeps developing and if he can improve the technical part of his game. Also you are right, Theo can only control the quality of the cross he plays; its up to his teammates to get on the end of those crosses.

    I’ll have to look into some Rosicky stats as that is an interesting point you make. I remember reading that article about Rosicky supposedly being the next Pires and cringing. I dont like it when managers compare incoming or current players to legends as each player has his own playing style and so on. Plus we often over look the role that injuries play as well as the playing style of one’s teammates (especially in Wenger’s system). In the end I would rather someone like Tomas Rosicky be Tomas Rosicky, not ‘The Next Robert Pires’.