Tag Archives: Walcott

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Theo Walcott would be a luxury signing but he might just help Arsenal win the League

By Tim Todd, Flip Floppist

It’s funny how I have a tendency to say one thing and then to change my mind, literally, three days later. Maybe it’s not that I change my mind but rather I might soften my position on something. But it’s a fact, that when presented with new data, I simply admit that I might be wrong.

I’ve gotten used to being wrong because it happens to me all the time. I suspect that most people are wrong a lot more then they admit but with me the problem is multiplied by the fact that I have a blog, and it’s read by literally threes or even fours of people, and the fact that I sometimes speak from my intuition rather than from a place of facts and knowledge.

I trust my intuition. My ability to see through things, notice minor details, and to pay attention to things that other people would normally miss – especially bodily clues from human beings – was sharpened on the steel edge of my father’s parenting. So, when I say that I see something different in Theo Walcott’s body language, as I did two days ago after watching him play in the friendly against Everton, I’m telling you that he’s setting off my intuition.

Something was different about Walcott: he seemed more poised, he seemed more powerful, he seemed more determined — he surprised me in that game with the ferocity of his shots and with the way he got behind defenders. He set off my intuition.

Where I go wrong after that is that I draw a conclusion based on my intuition. Rather than simply say “did you notice that Theo seemed different?” I will say “he looks to me like he’s going to score 30 goals next season” or some such nonsense. It’s funny when I do that because it’s classic prejudice or bias and I like to paint myself as intellectually aloof or rational. I guess I’m not as rational as I like to think. Or maybe I’m just a tad too impulsive? Either way, it’s slightly annoying and one of my many flaws. 

Theo Walcott never fails to generate controversy when the topic of whether he is “worth X per week” or whether he should just “sign da ting” is brought up. But I have yet to see a definitive answer on Walcott’s value from a trusted source. Someone to just come along and say “yep, he’s worth X and here’s why.” And the problem is that I don’t know if we can have a definitive answer on Walcott’s value because there are too many complicating factors.

First, his injury record is atrocious: in his first three seasons at the club he had both shoulders operated on. And two seasons ago he tore his ACL and that limited him to just 39 appearances in those two years. That’s just crazy. Anyone who wants to say that Arsenal shouldn’t re-sign him can just point to his injury record. He may very well recover fully from this and go on to have another 5 year career as a top striker but that is a hell of a gamble to take on a player.

Second, on 16 March 2016, Theo Walcott will turn 27 and will have been with the club for 10 years. That means he is 26 years old, the same age as Alexis Sanchez. How long of a contract do you give that man? Do you give him 4 years? Keep him around until he’s 31? Considering his injury record? My intuition meter is telling me that this is probably the sticking point in this round of contract negotiations: he wants a five year deal and Arsenal don’t want to give it to him. That’s just pure speculation of course and I don’t want that to be the main thing you all talk about.

But, as of right now, Walcott has made 192 starts and 111 subs. He has 302 appearances for Arsenal in 9 seasons and has scored just 76 goals.  That’s a goal every 4 games. Walcott is 26 years old, he’s got a history of injury, and bar one season, he’s never really produced at the top level.

Here is a chart of Walcott’s output since 2009, the year after his second shoulder op. Data below is his combined Premier League and Champions League output. I’m not cherry picking data by doing that, I’m actually including all of the data available on WhoScored.com. If his cup competition data was available I would include it, it is not, so I can not.

On the right, I then average Walcott’s 2009-2015 PL and CL output under the misnomer “Career” average. And on the far right, I put Alexis Sanchez’ data from last season with Arsenal. And just to be extra nice to Theo Walcott, I think his 2012/2013 season is his benchmark and so I highlighted that in bold.

I compared Theo with Alexis because both players are 26 years old, both are right footed, both play wide for Arsenal, and both want to play centrally. I think it’s a very fair comparison. Walcott should offer what Alexis offers, especially if Walcott wants Alexis money and an Alexis length contract.

Walcott

As you can see, one of the things that Theo excels at is getting shots on target. And his shots per goal ratio is pretty good, especially in his high water mark season. This actually connects well with my intuition: that Walcott is a good finisher.

The problem is that unlike Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott doesn’t do much else for the team. He’s not a dribbler, his key passes are fairly poor, and his defensive work is basically non-existent: if you add up all the tackles he’s made in Champions League and Premier League play since 2009, he has 2 fewer tackles than Alexis Sanchez made this season alone.

If Arsenal are adopting the system that Naveen, Tim Stillman, and I all think that he is — pressing without the ball — then Walcott’s lack of defensive work becomes a major liability. It’s not like he’s incapable of doing the work, or that he lacks the footballing brain to figure out how, he’s just never shown a desire for defense. Watch Alexis Sanchez for five minutes, he simply wants the ball back and he will harass anyone with it to win it.

The data shows me, then, that Theo Walcott is basically a one-trick-pony. This is the thing I warned against when fans wanted Arsenal to buy Falcao. Falcao is a goal scorer and nothing else and we saw how spectacularly that failed at Man U last season: he can’t hold the ball up (Walcott), he’s not really a distributor (Walcott), he doesn’t win aerial duels (Walcott), he’s incapable of dribbling to break down defenders (Walcott), and unless he gets to be the main target of the offense he won’t offer much else to the team (Walcott).

Here again is a comparison of Alexis and Theo. This time I take all of Walcott’s Champions League and Premier League data and prorate it over a “per90″ basis. In other words, here is what Walcott’s averages look like had he been healthy and played as much as Alexis Sanchez did for Arsenal last season.

Walexis

Once again, Walcott is clearly a good shooter and a good finisher but offers very little else to the team. In his high water mark season (2012/13) he scored 15 goals in PL and CL play. If you multiply Walcott’s 2009-2015 PL and CL averages per90 goals ratio by 38 games you get 16 goals. I think realistically, that’s what Walcott offers: a per90 prorated 16 goals a season.

If Arsenal were Man City, there would be no question; with a per90 16 goals a season ratio and not much else to offer, they would just sign him and play him when they could and where they want on the pitch. He would be a backup on that team, he would make up squad numbers, and help them with their homegrown quota. In that sense, Walcott is a luxury signing.

It’s a coincidence that Falcao and Walcott are similar players – both just goal scorers. And it’s no real criticism of Walcott to say “he’s just a goal scorer”. You need goals to win games. But that’s why it’s not a coincidence that Man U signed Falcao last season and that Chelsea signed him this season. Falcao scored important goals and I think he earned Man U eight points last season, that was the difference between finishing 4th and 6th last season. So, signing those kinds of players, and paying them over the odds, is exactly what big clubs do — especially if they want to win the Premier League.

Qq

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Walcott, Wilshere, Welbeck, and Ox: could they score the 10-15 goals Wenger is looking for?

By Tim Todd

The buzz word among the players at Arsenal’s Singapore sling has been “fitness”. And it’s little wonder that the players who seem most keen to “get fit” this season are the ones who spent most of last season on the sick table.

Wilshere said that he returned to training early this year in order to get a jump start on his fitness. Looking forward to the season ahead and whether he would get chances to start for Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain said, “First and foremost, you have to do everything you can to stay fit, so I’m working on that.” And Wenger hinted that both of those players need full fitness in order to play at their very best,

He always had appetite Jack, but he was out for a long time. Already in the last two or three games of the season he has found his burst back with acceleration. Like with Alex [Oxlade-Chamberlain] that’s a big part of their game. To be very efficient they need that and that demands physically to be perfect. He’s getting close now.

But more than just Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain, who have been perennially plagued by injury, Welbeck and Walcott have also sat out large stretches of the season. And no matter how good someone’s “per90″ stats look (Walcott’s 5 goals were scored in 442 minutes making him a 38 goal a season striker according to per90) what really matters is overall contribution to the team. And you can’t contribute if you don’t play.

Last season in Premier League play, Walcott, Welbeck, Wilshere, and Ox combined for just 4336 minutes. That’s the equivalent of 48 full matches for those four players. They also managed to combine for 12 goals scored, which is a decent amount of contribution for the limited minutes that they played.

But honestly, for me it’s this core of British players who need to step up next season. Of course, they need to work on their fitness so that they can get more games but also, and more importantly, they need to contribute to the overall goals haul of the team. They are all forwards in the Arsenal system. Even Jack Wilshere, who is deployed in the holding midfield role for England, will play in the wide forward roles according to Wenger. And those forwards need to score more goals.

As Arsenal closed out the season in roaring good fashion, Arsene Wenger famously said that Arsenal only needed to add 10 goals to their total in order to challenge for the Premier League Title. 10 additional goals (depending on when they were scored, a 10-0 blowout of Spurs would be nice but only adds 3 points) would have put Arsenal in second place behind Man City on goals scored and even with them on goal difference. And I can’t help but think at least one of those 10 goals that Wenger is imagining would have been taken in one of the five games that Arsenal were held scoreless or been enough to push Arsenal over the edge to a win in one of the 8 draws.

And I think Wenger has the players on his squad to do it. It’s not unrealistic to think that Walcott could play 25 games and score 10, doubling his output from last season. Or that Welbeck could play the same number of games and score 8 goals and that Wilshere and Ox could combine for a total of 6. That doubles their output from last season, easily.

Some will say that this is a huge gamble but I would say that all transfers are gambles. You could buy Lacazette for £25m and he could spend most of the season injured. Or he could turn out to be a one-season wonder like Drmic two years ago. With every Sanchez in the transfer market, there seem to be a dozen Bentekes. So, it makes sense that Wenger is conservative in the transfer market and aggressive in developing his players: best to work with the clay you already know.

Wenger will still buy, if a big name player becomes available. If someone like Benzema is pushed out at Real Madrid, I have no doubt that Arsene will jump at the chance to improve the team. But unless a proven top quality striker, which is always a hot commodity, becomes available, my bet is that Wenger will gamble on the fitness of Walcott, Welbeck, Wilshere, and Ox.

Regardless of what happens in the transfer market, this is a big season for Arsenal’s British core and if they improve their fitness and if they can improve their goal scoring, it could be a big season for the Arsenal.

Player 15/16 Games (guess) Goals (guess) 14/15 Games Goals
Sanchez 30 14 35 16
Giroud 30 15 27 14
Ramsey 30 6 29 6
Cazorla 30 1 37 7
Özil 30 5 22 4
Koscielny 30 3 27 3
Walcott 25 10 14 5
Welbeck 25 8 25 4
Bellerin 20 2 20 2
Wilshere 30 4 14 2
Rosicky 0 0 15 2
Ox 30 2 23 1
Chambers 10 0 23 1
Debuchy 18 2 10 1
Flamini 0 0 23 1
Gibbs 18 1 22 0
Monreal 20 1 28 0
Coquelin 23 1 22 0
Mertesacker 35 1 35 0
Arteta 15 1 7 0
Paulista 15 1 6 0
Wenger

Wherefore the English Core

At the onset of the season I penned a piece about how Arsène Wenger was building Arsenal’s “British Core”. Wenger had added Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck to an exciting group of established English players like Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Kieran Gibbs, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain¹, and the Frenchman was bullish about the project bragging that he could see five Arsenal players forming the core of the English national team in the future. But here we are 3/4 of the way through the season and whether it’s injury or form, I have to admit that I can’t see any of these players making up the core of the English national team, yet. So, what happened?

The most obvious thing that happened this year is increased competition for places. Calum Chambers is a exciting young talent who can play as a fullback, center back, or defensive midfielder but has yet to really shine in any of those roles when given the chance. Chambers got handed the starting role in right back when Debuchy went down injured but quickly lost his starting spot to Hector Bellerin. The reason is simple: both Bellerin and Chambers have a tendency to get too far forward and to make defensive errors but Bellerin’s superior foot speed allows him to recover more quickly. And Bellerin is a converted winger, his class shows when he has the ball in attack. Chambers is a fine player, but Bellerin is simply superior.

Chambers also suffers a similar fate in center back and in the defensive midfield role. Mertesacker, one of the captains of the team, is going to start over Chambers at center back whenever the big German is healthy. And as for defensive midfield, Chambers got one start there and it was pretty disastrous. I would say that Coquelin gets the nod there. So, in a sense, the “problem” with Chambers is that he is a jack of all trades, yet master of none.

Danny Welbeck’s struggle to get into the starting lineup at Arsenal is very different. When Wenger made his “English core” remark, Welbz had just scored a brace for England against Slovenia. He was starting for Arsenal in his favored central role up front and things were looking good for the Englishman. But then he went down injured and Arsenal got Olivier Giroud back. Giroud has been playing well ever since and has kept Welbeck sidelined or shunted off to the wings where he’s less effective. Giroud has been in such fine form that I think most folks were surprised when Arsene handed the start to Danny Welbeck in the FA Cup quarter final against Man U. But Welbeck repaid Arsene for that chance and scored the winner with an industrious and well taken goal.

Welbeck, in many ways, symbolizes both the problem and the solution for these English players. The problem is that there is increased competition for places at Arsenal. There is nothing wrong with this, at all. Giroud may be in better form than Welbeck but what Welbeck needs to do is exactly what he did on Monday night against his former team: work his buns off and score goals. If he does that, there is no doubt that he will eventually win the starting spot from Giroud.

The other thing that Welbeck symbolizes is youth. Welbeck is 24, Giroud 28. If Welbeck takes a long-term view of his career, he will see that within 1-2 years he should be entering his prime, have more experience, and be starting regularly over Giroud. Now, I know that in our instant gratification society this seems an impossible ask but that is just the reality he is faced with.

Gibbs as well is facing rather stiff competition from Nacho Monreal. Monreal isn’t the most exciting player, he runs a bit like a duck, but Monreal is a model professional and a good example for his younger, English, counterpart, Gibbs. Monreal and Gibbs have essentially split the left back duties this season but Gibbs has youth on his side, Monreal is 29. If Gibbs just keeps plugging away and taking his chances when they come to him, he will surely get the starting role at Arsenal.

For some of the other English players, the story is a bit different. I’m talking specifically about Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott. Wenger bought Özil and Alexis for a combined £70m and both of those players bring an undeniable quality to the team and both of those players start in the role that Wilshere and Walcott fancy.

Let’s start with Walcott. All the signs were pointing to Walcott having a breakout season last year. And it was shaping up to be as well, but then he went down injured. It was yet another injury in a career which is marked by his time spent in the treatment room. That injury set his career back again and allowed for other players to come in and take his starting spot. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has better close control (dribbling) and similar speed. Ox also defends better than Walcott. And, as if that all wasn’t bad enough, Wenger bought Alexis this summer. Alexis does all those things better even than Ox and the only reason he hasn’t started much on the right is that Wenger prefers him on the left where he can cut in on his right foot.

But worse for Walcott is that Arsenal have adopted an all out pressing style. This doesn’t suit his game. He is young, and he could pick this habit up. In other words, he could learn to play more like Alexis. But until he does, I can’t see him getting many looks in.

The incredible thing is that Theo Walcott is only 25 years old and his next 4 years will probably be the best of his career (if he can avoid injury). I could see Arsenal selling him this summer because he doesn’t fit our style of play and have him go to some place like West Ham where they play the type of compact, long-ball that does suit him, and where he wouldn’t have to play the type of pressing game that he would at Arsenal³, and he could score 20 goals a season. That would leave many fans wondering “why didn’t Arsene get the best out of him” and “how come we didn’t adopt a playing style that suited him” or “why doesn’t Arsenal buy him back???”

See, this is the complicated thing about Wilshere and Walcott. It’s not always down to whether they are good players or not, they are both clearly good players. Most of the time, it’s actually down to whether the players fit your system or whether you can integrate their talents into your system. And like Walcott, I also worry about Wilshere.

Wilshere wears the number 10 and he is an exciting number 10 style English player. He is very direct, he likes to attack defenders square up, and he’s got great close control so he often gets by the defender. But the problem is that Arsenal have a veritable cornucopia of these types of players. Cazorla and Ozil both play ahead of Wilshere in the central attacking midfield role.

The other problem is that Jack hasn’t proved himself adaptable. He nominally plays a defensive midfield role for England but having watched him now for several years, he lacks the passing range and surety needed for a defensive midfielder. And despite his “tigerish” reputation, he is a terrible tackler, and doesn’t pay attention to his defensive duties at times, rather looking to start the attack.

I’d like to think that there is more to come from Wilshere. His career, like Walcott, has been cut short by injury². So, there is the hope that he will come back healthy and get a run of games. He’s also only 23 years old. Players get better at passing with age. If anyone can teach a player how to pass it’s Arsene Wenger and by the time Wilshere is 27 years old, I suspect he will be calmer and more reliable with his passing.

But even if he comes back healthy and even if he works tirelessly developing his game, he still faces stiff competition in a crowded midfield at Arsenal and might be tempted to take his game somewhere else.

Some of you will read what I’ve written and say that I’m worrying about an “implosion” of the English Core at Arsenal. Far from it. I see that the English core is being challenged and that the challenge is world class. Having players like Özil and Alexis on your team should make the others better, not worse.

What I’m suggesting then, is that this project is going to take a little more time than I think many fans (myself included) wanted or expected. I think a lot of people in England expect that a 20 year old player who has a few good games is going to be the next big name, but that’s not how this works. It takes time and hard work.

Chambers isn’t a bad player, he just needs to nail down where he wants to play. Gibbs isn’t a bad player, he just has an equal challenging him. Welbeck isn’t a bad player, he just needs to keep working hard and taking his chances when they are given to him. And Wilshere and Walcott face the most direct challenge and need to figure out where they fit at Arsenal, if they want to stay.

But all of these are young players, who have at least another World Cup in front of them. If they can rise to the challenge, Arsenal could still form the core of the English national team. Of a damn good English national team, I might add.

Qq

¹This isn’t meant to discount Chuba Akpom, Carl Jenkinson or other exciting academy players but rather at the time they weren’t really mentioned as part of an Arsenal core.
²It is absurd listening to Mourinho moan about how Hazard is kicked when Jack Wilshere has had his ankles routinely destroyed by every team on the planet for the last 4 years.
³Contrary to popular belief West Ham do not force their players to play much actual defense. They rely mainly on team shape to defend spaces and are less interested in tackling the ball away, intercepting, and other hallmarks of defensive play.