Why is Arsenal's Theo Walcott on fire this season?
In and out the first team last season, inconsistent and having yet to prove himself, Theo Walcott’s 2016/17 season began with his position at Arsenal under scrutiny. Many questioned whether it was time for the former Southampton man to move onto pastures new and find consistent game time, others wondered why Arsene Wenger was struggling to let go of a core group of underperforming players, the likes of Joel Campbell, Theo Walcott, Callum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain often were the targets.
Yet, as the season began, in a traditional fashion with Arsenal signing players late on in the window, Theo Walcott quickly became a key first team player. Arsene Wenger seems to have solved the conundrum surrounding Walcott as to whether he is a striker or winger, playing the large majority of his minutes out wide on the right.
Arsene Wenger seems to have solved the conundrum surrounding Walcott as to whether he is a striker or winger, having operated Walcott out on the right for the large majority of this season.
Wenger revealed why he’d decided to keep Walcott, stating ‘I’d always thought there was something special with this guy’ and his judgement on Walcott, a judgement that has been questioned many times, now seems to stand correct, the English winger has scored 3 goals in 6 Premier League games this season.
At 27-years-old, the form Walcott’s displaying has been expected of him for a long time, having started his international career started at the tender age of 16. For over a decade, Walcott has flickered in and out of form, with last season providing the perfect example. The winger would play a string of ‘fitness building’ games, find his peak fitness, then be blighted by injury.
Last season, it seemed Wenger wasn’t too sure where to play the former Southampton player as well. With only 5 goals to his name last season, Walcott, who once stated he wanted to be a striker, didn’t find the back of the net enough to merit the lone striker role in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 system.
Yet, last season Walcott failed to create enough chances in his 28 appearances to merit a spot out on the right ahead of Alexis Sanchez, Alex Iwobi, Joel Campbell and often Aaron Ramsey. The Englishman only created 17 opportunities, resulting in 2 assists.
Walcott has half of last seasons assist tally already and is creating chances at a rate that would result in him having made 32 key passes by the end of the season, just under double what he made last season.
It’s clear that Walcott has become more clinical this season, but his mentality has also strengthened after talks with Wenger. Now a more senior player in the dressing room, and one who has been with Arsenal a long time, Walcott has noticed his duty to win games for his team.
His performance against FC Basel in the Champions League was an example of this. Walcott’s brace killed Basel off and gave the Gunners the 3 points, while the Englishman also continued to develop his connection with Alexis Sanchez, who has been given the role of striker.
The Chilean star played as a lone striker with Walcott coming in from the right. Both aforementioned players are wingers, and this allows a strong connection. When Sanchez goes short to collect the ball, Walcott will burst into the space in behind the defence left by the Chilean.
The consistent movement between these two stretches the defence allowing players like Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla more space to pick killer passes.
Defensively, Walcott is benefitting from watching one of the best pressers of a ball. Sanchez is renowned for his defensive work rate and as a number 9, the Chilean is able to trigger the press, with his attempt to close the ball followed by Walcott. The Englishman said ‘That [defensive pressing] starts from Alexis at the top and he sets the pace for us all, and it seems to be clicking at this moment in time’
Yet, Walcott doesn’t only benefit from Sanchez’s intelligence, the electric winger has also been boosted by the calming effect of Granit Xhaka.
With defensive stability now secure, Walcott is able to maintain width, therefore, preventing the opposing fullback from attacking, providing less offensive options to the opposition team in possession. Walcott has suggested that having Xhaka is good, but only because he’s kept his speculative, but successful, long range efforts to a minimum.
However, even with defensive stability, Walcott is working much harder. Analysis from The Telegraph provides a perfect comparison between his efforts last season to this year. Having made 12 tackles already this season, compared to the 11 he made during the whole of last year, Walcott is clearly now putting the badge before his name.
It remains to be seen whether this will last all season, or whether the winger is just fitter than the crowd due to the lack of international football he had last summer. Gunners fans should enjoy every second of their current in-form player because history provides no clues as to whether this will be permanent.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Emrah Partal.
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