Three steps to ensure Theo Walcott reproduces his Arsenal form for England
Theo Walcott’s omission from England’s Euro 2016 squad has been highlighted as a major factor in his recent resurgence; a wakeup call for a player who has been in a comfort zone for too long. His improved form with Arsenal in the fledgling stages of this season has earned him a place in Gareth Southgate’s first senior squad. However, the challenge the former Southampton man now faces is how to translate this improvement onto the international stage.
Walcott has had his moments in an England shirt; from his hat trick in Zagreb under Fabio Capello to his goal against Sweden in Euro 2012. The Arsenal man now has clarity that his best position is on the right flank of the forward line; for many years the suggestion that he might develop into a central striker seemed to confuse him. In Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford, the Three Lions are well stocked up front. However, there is room for Walcott to nail down a spot on the right. We suggested three things he and Southgate must do in order to achieve this.
Pack the team with technical ball players
Walcott is a forward with a very limited skill set. Essentially; he is quick, makes fantastic off-the-ball runs, and when confident is a pretty good finisher. Walcott doesn’t have a great first touch, isn’t always comfortable with his back to goal, and doesn’t possess a trick to beat opponents in tight spaces. Therefore, it is vital to have players around him that compensate for these technical weaknesses. When Walcott went through his worst run of form last season with Arsenal, it coincided with the absence of Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky; all players who keep the team ticking and allow Walcott to stay high. In their absence, Walcott is forced to get involved earlier in the move and to try and dribble up field, something that was never going to end well.
This year, with Granit Xhaka and/or Santi Cazorla in deep areas, plus the silky talents of Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi alongside him, Walcott can focus on playing on the shoulder of the last defender; safe in the knowledge that the ball is being circulated. Unfortunately, Southgate doesn’t have the same array of midfield talent to call upon especially in the absence of Adam Lallana who is the sort of player Walcott would enjoy combining with. Jordan Henderson has played the most forward passes in the Premier League and Wayne Rooney is usually pretty tidy on the ball, if not very penetrative. Walcott will rely on their service.
Play a fluid forward line
Walcott has picked up his share of assists in the past, notably from near post cutbacks to Robin Van Persie and Olivier Giroud, but is not a winger in the traditional sense. Beating full backs on the outside and whipping in crosses is not his game; Walcott loves to play in the gully between left back and left centre back. This has worked best at the Emirates when Alexis Sanchez has played up front, whose forays into wide areas leaves space for Walcott to move into central positions. In this sense, the absence of Harry Kane might do Walcott a favour.
With Rashford or Vardy up front, England will have a forward that will look to run the channels. Whenever they do so, this will give Walcott the chance to sprint into the space they vacate. The penny has finally dropped with Walcott that he can still get himself into good goalscoring positions from a wide berth. In fact, it is often easier to get chances coming in off the flank because your movement can go undetected. Up front against two big centre backs, Walcott’s movement was far more ‘obvious’.
Keep up the high work-rate
The former Southampton man has attempted more tackles this season than in the previous two campaigns combined. Walcott has spoken recently about having an epiphany at the end of last season and realising that he had to change his ways. Firstly, the fact he is so quick means he is actually an effective weapon if you are looking to press high. Technically inferior defenders in the Malta and Slovenia back lines will not relish being closed down at pace, and winning the ball back in their defensive third can be potent way of creating chances. Moreover, this increased defensive output has helped Walcott get the fans onside. When he makes a mistake, it is no longer greeted with moans and groans and because the fans aren’t on his back, Walcott is more inclined to show for the ball. His hard graft without the ball has been the foundation for all other recent improvements in his game.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Emrah Partal