Arsene Wenger did his usual pre-match press conference and spoke to the collected media ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup match against Blackburn. Naturally, the Arsenal manager fielded a plethora of off-topic questions including the most ridiculous question of the day, “Lionel Messi… better than Bale?”
Perhaps it’s natural for the English press to get excited about a Welsh player who has scored all six of his team’s goals in their last four matches but what isn’t natural is how excited they get. I’m paraphrasing with my quotation above, but the reality is that at an Arsenal press conference Arsene Wenger was asked if Gareth Bale should be ranked in the same group as the world’s best players; Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo.
Not to put too fine a point on it but Gareth Bale is a decent goal scorer and has 13 goals in 23 League appearances for Tottenham. Mr. Ronaldo is also a decent goal scorer and his tally is 24 goals in 23 league games for Real Madrid. And of course, Lionel Messi is not a million miles off Bale’s pace with his paltry 35 goals in 23 league games.
But that’s just the respective league games. Bale had chipped in a whopping 4 more goals in all appearances for Tottenham bringing his total goals haul to 17 in 31 apps. Which is slightly less than half the 39 goals Ronaldo has in 39 appearances and is almost 30 less than the 46 goals in 33 appearances that Lionel Messi has amassed this season.
Then there’s Ibrahimovich and his 21 goals, Falcao has 19 league goals, you know… in fact, in terms of just league goals scored there are 13 players above Gareth Bale, just in the top 5 leagues in Europe.
So, let’s see here… Is Gareth Bale in the top three for all players in the world? I’m going with… no.
Naturally, Arsene Wenger put it more eloquently than I do:
He has the potential to develop and to get close to the players you compare him to, but Ronaldo and Messi? Messi has won two or three Champions League titles. He has won a few championships. He scored more than 90 goals last year. Let’s not go too quick [in comparing Bale to Messi]. You are always very quick here, but let’s slow down a bit.
Part of the reason why Bale’s name came up today is because Arsene apparently passed up the chance to sign Gareth Bale at the same time that he took Arsenal’s star forward Theo Walcott. Both players came from the Southampton academy and both were on Arsene’s radar. Ultimately, he just chose Theo Walcott which naturally leads the press to speculate over whether Arsene made the right choice.
Wenger stood his ground on taking Walcott over Bale. Defending the Englishman, who made his 250th Arsenal appearance last week, by stating that Walcott has improved significantly over the last year.
It’s unbelievable. I believe what this season shows is the remarkable evolution of Theo Walcott. He’s a complete player today and his transformation is absolutely sensational. He improves every week and it shows that he is remarkably intelligent as well, because he understands things quickly, takes them on board and is open-minded. That’s why I believe he is always improving.
And looking at Theo Walcott’s numbers you can see what Wenger is talking about.
Despite fewer starts than last season Walcott has seen an uptick in nearly every category representing a four year high in his developmental arc. The numbers above are all just his League numbers and Gareth Bale is compared on the far left. This season Walcott has 11 goals (a career high), 8 assists (a career high), 5.27 shots per goal (a career best), 1.7 dribbles per game (a career best), career lows in being dispossessed and in turnovers (which you all know I love!), and despite losing Arsenal’s best goal scorer (and Walcott’s number one target for assists from the last three years) now has a career best in key passes per assist meaning that Walcott’s key passes are not just finding players who are in shooting position but finding players who are in turn scoring goals.
But it’s true that Gareth Bale is better than Theo Walcott in a few categories. Notably, he has 13 goals in the League. But did you know that Theo Walcott actually has 18 goals in all competitions for Arsenal and that Gareth Bale only has the 17? Not only that but Walcott has the edge in assists as well with 11 to Bale’s 6.
But Walcott does fall short of Bale in a few categories: Walcott takes fewer shots than Bale, demands less of the ball, turns the ball over less, and Bale also edges Walcott in yellow cards for diving.
Maybe the press asked the wrong question. It’s not whether Gareth Bale is good enough to be in the rarefied air of footballing gods like Messi and Ronaldo, but whether he’s even as good as Theo Walcott?