Theo Walcott: Analyzing His Contribution for Arsenal This Season

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Theo Walcott: Analyzing His Contribution for Arsenal This Season
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Just as fans were taking their seats at the beginning of Arsenal's match against Manchester United last weekend, Theo Walcott stunned and roused the crowd at the Emirates Stadium.

All that flowery diction means he scored a goal.

And that's actually cause for celebration, regardless of the high-profile opponent he scored against. Walcott had not scored a single goal for Arsenal since January 30, when a low strike past Pepe Reina set the Gunners up to draw 2-2 with Liverpool.

For the club's joint-top scorer in the Premier League, that is not a sufficient return.

It detracts from Walcott's recurring argument that he should be allowed to play as a central striker. He certainly has had his moments when deployed up front, but one wonders whether a player can be trusted to score goals in what appears to be an unnatural position after failing to hit the back of the net in his more natural one.

The problem with Walcott is that it is impossible to use absolutes when describing him. During one game, his searing pace can shred opposing defenses to pieces, and during others, he is totally ineffective.

During the Newcastle United match earlier this season, which was Walcott's breakout game amid swirling rumors of a contract dispute, he vivisected a Toon defense that played a high line and failed to organize effectively.

While Walcott's speed is his primary asset, he displayed a finishing touch that even Thierry Henry would be proud of.

The total precision and composure with which he took his first goal—a low curler from a seemingly impossible angle—was startlingly reminiscent of the old Frenchman's signature finishes.

But, alarmingly, Walcott seems to be less effective against teams that are content to sit back and deny Arsenal space. Because the Gunners play a style based on measured passing around the box, opposing defenses have an incentive to operate as such.

There are far too many examples of opposing defenses marginalizing him to list here. Watch the highlights of the last four games Arsenal played before the Manchester United match, though, and Walcott will barely appear.

The statistics bear this out too.

Squawka.com provides a nifty graph for each Premier League player that charts their form from the beginning of the season to the end. After about the middle of January, Walcott's figures take a dramatic plunge.

But at least he's been consistent. From August until the start of 2013, his form oscillated violently between stellar and subpar.

The latter might be an understatement. Arsene Wenger did bench Walcott at the start of the season amid protracted contract negotiations between player and club, but it is rather remarkable to see a player's spike from a negative to well above average almost every week.

Interestingly, though, the level of his performances dipped at a steady rate after putting pen to paper on a new contract in January. The tiny bump at the end of the graph reflects his performance against Manchester United, which was actually quite mediocre apart from the goal.

The two events are not necessarily correlated, but it is logical to question whether Walcott should be the highest-paid player at Arsenal Football Club (via The Times) while displaying such remarkable inconsistency.

There are certainly positive aspects of his game, which would allow him to at least make the argument that he deserves £100,000 per week. The obvious speed (which is unteachable and perhaps unmatched in England) and finishing ability are two compelling reasons.

Besides, 12 goals in the Premier League is quite a healthy return for a man who spends most of his time on the wing. Ten assists is nothing to balk at, either.

But wherever one looks with Theo Walcott, there are caveats. A quarter of his total goals came in one game, and he does not actively get involved in the attack as much as, say, Lukas Podolski or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Walcott's actual footballing skill should, therefore, not be represented by his salary or the stature that his compensation naturally confers.

Rather, we must see him as a player who, while quite capable of causing havoc on his day, is only effective against a certain type of opponent and has his limitations.

And while Walcott's hunger to play as a central striker might occasionally be satiated, it is best to keep him on the wing, where his particular set of skills can be used most effectively.

 

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