A friend of mine, Chelsea fan, who always slanders Walcott regularly (almost everyone I know does, including Arsenal fans, myself included) recently told me in awe “This Theo Walcott just dey score anyhow, the boy don improve”. Lately the question people are asking is “Why has Walcott improved?” and I always reply with “Has he really improved?”.

Theo celebrates after scoring the opening goal vs Basel
Theo celebrates after scoring the opening goal vs Basel

I am (always have been) of the opinion that Theo Walcott is a good player. He might (definitely) not be world class but he’s not a poor player, never has been. He’s also not an average player in my books, he’s slightly above average, a good player. His case is that of setting the bar so high so early and not living up to it much later.

Theo has had an okay career with 97 goals and 73 assists in 379 club appearances (over 130 from the bench). He also has 8 goals in 46 national team appearances, a feat many players today still dream of. At age 17, he was so full of promise. Dubbed the “next Thierry Henry”, he was eventually given the famous number 14 at Arsenal. He went to the World Cup at a very young age only to miss the next two as an experienced player; dropped in 2010 (a shocker to many as even his coach, Fabio Capello, admitted his decision was a mistake) and missing the 2014 World Cup due to injuries.

theo-walcott-signs-for-arsenal-jan-2006
Walcott joined Arsenal in 2006 as the most expensive 16-year-old in British football. 10 years on, many still believe he hasn’t proven himself yet.

Injuries have been a major setback in this “road to Thierry Henry” for Theo Walcott. It’s almost impossible to have him fit for an entire season. As an Arsenal fan, one of the surest things every season, besides a top four finish and St. Totteringham day, is Theo Walcott joining Jack Wilshere in the Physio room. The only season he was very fit and played centrally was 2012/2013, he got 21 goals and 16 assists in all competitions.

Another issue with Walcott has been the position. He has always wanted to play centrally as a striker because he felt he’ll do better there and score goals. He even (allegedly) told Wenger and the club that he wasn’t renewing his contract unless he played as a striker. Walcott went on to sign a deal in July 2015.  Arsene finally made him the main striker in 2015/2016 season and fans were curious to see how it will go (because Giroud is slow and doesn’t necessarily have a great conversion rate).

So what does Walcott have?

People will like to have you believe all he has is pace. While pace is his strongest attribute, it is definitely not the only good attribute. He can run behind, through and at defenders, he is also sometimes a ‘surprisingly’ good dribbler of the ball. He’s an excellent finisher (probably Arsenal’s best) and he knows how to create a good scoring chance for a teammate. Some might be wondering which Walcott I’m talking about, the same one we all love to hate.

 Theo Walcott of Arsenal and Adama Traore of Basel
The much changed Walcott is not only quick & direct, he’s also perfected humbling defenders.

Stats might be against some of this mainly because (I’m about to list his problems) he’s inconsistent, either due to injury, bad form, or having an Iwobi spring up and be better off for the team. Walcott also lacks creativity. His decision making is so poor, he spends so much time on the ball deliberating on what to do then actually does something that wasn’t worth the time wasted. He is also not physical enough. He doesn’t go all the way in duels probably because he’s injury prone and wants to be cautious (too cautious). He’s not one to shoot from range, even when necessary. He will most times rather try an unsuccessful one two which brings us back to the Why has Walcott improved?

Is his age a factor now? Arsene Wenger did say (and he’s correct) that he’s at that age where attackers bring out their best. He even backed him during preseason to have an amazing season. (All hail Arsene Wenger the greatest soothsayer!)

Last season as a striker started well, he ended up scoring 9 goals. He was side-lined by injury, then on his return, his form had dropped and he just wasn’t physical enough to cause EPL defenders problems (unlike Jamie Vardy – Pace & Strength).

Fast forward to this season, same person that always wanted to be a striker had lost confidence (as per Wenger). He decided to return to the role of a right winger. I saw pictures of Walcott training with Arsenal and I kept wondering why he wasn’t with the Hammers or Liverpool already. Mahrez was my choice to come in. But while Mahrez might be a better player, in the current Arsenal system with too many creatives already, I’ll prefer a “goal scorer” Theo Walcott.

This current system, backed with the faith of one of the best managers, is all I attribute Walcott’s form to. I don’t believe he has improved any part of his game play. He’s just grown in confidence and has the belief that he can do it, and he’s seeing himself do it. The current system allows Alexis Sanchez who is, playing as a lone striker, come deep and most times wait for the run of Hector Bellerin, who then crosses or pass directly to Walcott who makes his run towards goals. Alexis has directly assisted 2 of Walcott’s goals this season. Walcott would probably not be having the season he’s having (8 goals in 14 appearances and 2 assists) if Olivier Giroud or a Danny Welbeck was the lone striker.

theo-walcott-and-alexis-sanchez
This duo could yet form the most deadly partnership in the League. Woe betides the defenders who’d come against them then!

The sacrifice, ironically, is making Alexis the striker. While his goal scoring rate has somehow reduced, Theo’s has risen. Reminds me of when Sanchez just signed for Arsenal and Theo said “I and Sanchez will cause teams a lot of trouble”. I always muted the “I and” part [straight face] but ayyy look, it’s finally here!

Has Walcott improved? Mentally? Maybe. Physically? I do not see it. Technically? He hasn’t. It’s the same old Theo “I-want-to-score-goals-but-will-waste-chances” Walcott presented with opportunities on a platter of gold.

Article By: Paolo, @paolokonqueror

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