This is part II of the Walcott Conundrum article that began earlier today here from @Lordhillwood. Part 1 – Press Here
Looking at goal ratio per game only reveals part of the story, we need to look at key aspects of TW’s game over 3-4 seasons to see how he has developed (if at all) and what are his weaknesses and strengths, compared to these players. I have looked at seasons 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 and have compared him with players who play in a similar position and who sat in the breadth of goal to game ration TW has fluctuated between in the last 3 years.
Before anyone squeaks injuries, I have dealt with those later in the article, these stats show games actually played over 3 seasons, so are a fair comparison to use as to TW’s performance and other like players.
Berahino and Chadli didn’t play in the EPL in this season, so are not producing data. We can see TW in this season beat Eden Hazard to win the attack score, ran Hazard very close on the assist front, and pass completion. However his possession score is awful and he is last in defence score. Not only was he losing possession but also not defending for his team. His attack scores with leading the goals scored chart here, give him the 1st place. However for an overall game Hazard is nearly 30% a more complete player. Hazard’s defence score is a third of his attack score, TW’s is only 10%. In other words only 10% of his game is spent defending in this season.
In this season we can see that TW’s defensive efforts decreased by 78% from 124.72 to 27.33, his attack scored decreased by roughly 75%, his possession score increased massively from – 105 to plus 16, his assists halved, and goals too. TW finds himself in the invidious position of just beating Chadli of Spurs and Berahino of WBA on overall scores.
Hazard is consistently in his leading the group, but his increase in offensive play led to a decrease in his defensive commitment and his possession score, balanced out by adding to his goals tally.
We can see here that TW is last, yes he was injured but his stats show an overall not being involved in the game, worsening in every department, and at a time when his peers are all stepping up their game. Defensive mark has slumped to a 3 year low, attack score likewise, possession is nearly negative.
So here we can clearly see ‘There are only two Theo Walcotts” to name a popular terrace song.
This takes us back to the opposing statements by players and managers at the beginning of the article. Theo in 2012/13 was the Theo, Messi, Pep and Xavi refer to. Theo for England and in the other two years is more clearly the Theo, Hansen and Waddle referred to.
Yes I know TW has suffered with injuries, and we will come to that and their effect as a variable on him as a player and person. However we can clearly see that TW hasn’t developed his game if we think from the start at Arsenal where he was considered so highly he won BBC young sports personality of the year in 2006.
Theo’s goals and exhilarating runs mask inconsistency in his game, his game as an attacking wide midfielder. He isn’t a centre forward or a playmaker. He has to defend more, keep possession, not get robbed in key areas, or be uninvolved or out of position. He can be exhilarating to watch – witness his ravaging John Terry at Stamford Bridge twice. He can also be infuriating to watch, hence the title “The Walcott Conundrum”. His trademark move of pass to Sagna and hide in midfield, not getting back using his pace to intercept or defend, losing possession through incorrect choices and not covering his full back or dropping in when Sagna/Debuchy/Bellerin/Chambers go forward all boil the pot of frustration.
Whether as Gooners we like what Hansen or Waddle says, sadly the evidence is there to see on the pitch too frequently.
In all players there are positives and negatives, and coaches have to balance offensive prowess against defensive ability. Coaches look to see players in midfield and up front start to develop their overall game as they approach peak career period. That is around the 25-26 year old mark.
If an attacking player can produce offensive stats, goals and assists yet achieve defensive scores like Hazard then clearly the coach can allow a little decrease in defence for the benefit of attack and goals. When an attacking player loses possession, doesn’t contribute to team defence, and isn’t participating, as a 100k a week player, alarm bells should ring. Hazard dropped a little defensively but upped offensive play giving goals and points. Walcott declined and in one game only completed 6 passes.
Developing your game is increasing your strengths, working on your weaknesses and improving them, and understanding positioning, where to run, when to pass, and in the case of attackers improving your finishing. We can say Theo hasn’t improved his positioning and I bet Bellerin, Debuchy and Sagna would agree, he doesn’t like defending either, his stats show that. His finishing is still inconsistent, and much of all of this is caused by a lack of improvement in decision making.
It is clear when he plays instinctively TW 1 comes out and he scores, TW2 thinks and it all goes horribly wrong. However after injuries (yes don’t worry I am getting there) we see TW3, a player avoiding contact, bottling tackles, losing possession, passing sideways and back more than forward, and also not taking players on using his major asset. Not only this but if you watch closely when the team lose possession, he is jogging back, and in games can be uninvolved for lengthy periods.
So at 100k a week, with his contract running down, and his agent looking no doubt for an increase in that over say 5 years, Arsenal now have to weigh up several issues. Arsenal now are in a different financial place than they were when R van Git left. TW has been massively inconsistent over the last 6 years. TW doesn’t seem to have developed in to the player Arsenal and the hype suggested he might. The game has changed, teams now need midfielders who can attack, keep possession, finish and not waste scarce chances at the highest level. Midfielders now have to cover their defenders more. Plus TW has been injured and out for large spells.
Will he return to being the TW of 2012-13, can he go from there to be the real deal, do Arsenal feel investing 30 million pounds in wages on a new 5 year contract a good investment. Particularly when for such a cost the return in goals and assists is so inconsistent plus his involvement and overall contribution when fit is less than expected of a player at Arsenal at this level. Arsenal now have to bring in another three variables to help them make a tough decision which may prove unpopular with the fans. Do they use their new found financial clout to buy Reus, Dybala or An Other who is more of a complete player with good decision making, and a defensive side to their game plus the goals and assists? Doing so by selling TW and using his wages to upgrade that position?
Or do they gamble and believe they can restore the TW of 2012 and develop him further in to the finished article?
So on to injuries and there have been lots. Notably many happened during England duty. Here is another infuriating side to TW. He just comes back from fitness, isn’t match fit or fully recovered, yet accepts selection for friendlies and goes off and gets injured again.
Here is the list of his career injuries the number of them is scary and almost Diabyesque
So we can see the old shoulder injury has kept reoccurring, and hamstring injuries too, common amongst players with pace. Add to the knees, muscle strains ankles and you can see TW has spent time in nearly every season apart from 2012-13 injured.
Player when unable to play with serious injuries start recovery work, and do so from a base of high physical fitness and stamina, but the longer they don’t play the less match fit they are. But as the player recovers and starts to then train with the team, fitness is assessed constantly and then once ready they start to play and match fitness returns quickly if the player is fully involved in the games.
I want to look at how the injuries may affect TW as a person and how that impacts on his performances. We know he suffers from nerves and even stage fright from Bould’s comments and seeing him stood in the tunnel or on the sideline. Body language and facial expression betray a lot.
Being booed by 60,000 people during the NLD isn’t going to improve that either. However when you as a person battled to recover from injury and succeeded, you know the journey is long and tough. There will have been times when maybe TW thought I won’t make this, but did. However the fact his shoulder and hamstrings, and now knees keep coming back to sideline him, must have an effect on his psyche.
If he lacks confidence and is nervous as a person already then booing and the pressure on him to deliver for Arsenal and being scared of losing his England place, plus fright of re injury is a massive mental issue impacting on his performances
For sure this is the reason he is avoiding contact, and tackles and could even explain his not being involved, and the other negative issues that have haunted him in his career. Simply he is scared of being injured again, and having to go through another battle to recover. He may actually fear not winning the battle again. We saw this avoiding contact with Pires after his knee injury but Pires was a complete player and in a different class, he was never scared to the point of not being involved and recovered mentally and changed his game to get around his issues and delivered.
Can TW rebuild his mentality and shrug off his issues to become TW 2012 and go on? Current evidence suggests maybe not. The club must be addressing this with sports psychologists; however it is difficult to see any improvement in his last 3 games.
Clearly injuries have a major effect on his psyche, and confidence and we can’t adjudge how severe that is, but injuries aren’t his fault, and the mental side critique isn’t a sleight on him as a person, rather what has been seen as evidence.
So now let us look on balance at the issue for the team, not focusing on TW. He wasn’t selected versus Spurs purely in my opinion because of his avoiding contact, non involvement at times and specifically because of his almost nonexistent defensive side. This is an issue because it leaves Arsenal exposed down the right and the right back or CM on the right has no effective outlet. The RB has to peg back or risk TW not covering and leaving a space. The CM knows he won’t make an attempt to beat his man; even we have seen Ozil throwing up his arms when TW checked a run or didn’t look or think. It leaves Arsenal muted down the right; it leaves Arsenal restricted in width and attacking options. It leaves Arsenal with a player who is becoming a passenger, at a time when shaping up, defending and being set up to hit on the rebound is our game. The one player who should be forcing back his opposition wingback, backwards to get space and spring that rebound attack, isn’t involved enough and is shunning contact. A player who isn’t a playmaker pulling the strings as Ozil’s level or a forward like Bergkamp who both change and win you games. Rather a player who needs to contribute to be on the end of the team effort to win the game.
You can’t blame injuries when subbed on in the NLD, the most crucial game for the fans, for not tracking back and allowing a Spurs player to pick his spot for Kane to score the winner. Likewise injuries can’t be blamed on only having 9 touches and 6 completed passes versus bottom of the table Leicester. That is a mental issue preventing involvement in the game.
So now you can the Walcott conundrum – We know somewhere in there is a Billy the Whizz turbo boosted goal scorer who isn’t as prolific yet as we wish. But we see inconsistency and defensive issues starting to count more heavily, wasted chances and not developing to the level a 1st choice Arsenal wide player should be. Injuries affecting him mentally in his play and of course his decision making. A player with so much pace who has so much to offer if he is the right TW.
The Conundrum is this – Do Arsenal want the 2012 TW and to improve him and gamble on investing 30m in wages plus a signing on fee, with say 50% chances of success with possible reoccurring injuries. Or do they cut their losses, and upgrade for a player with all things functioning and delivering for the same money, with a good injury and recovery record and make a massive profit on TW selling him?
In today’s world of football and the idiocy surrounding English players it is possible TW could be sold for 25m or even more.
His contract expiration is looming (30.6.16) and for sure his agent will want an increase in wages , for all his goals and speed, once we take off our red and white glasses we see the inconsistency, bad decision making, and current shunning contact and defending. That for me plus the effect of those injuries and sheer amount of them and the apparent effect on his mental side tips the balance in to upgrading.
Arsenal now don’t have to make do with second or third best, we have Alexis and Ozil in our side and Cazorla running midfield, they deserve players who are involved, defend, attack make good decisions and have a positive overall contribution. TW 3 isn’t giving that, TW 2 showed it in flashes and TW of 2012 was nearly there. The conundrum is Arsenal can’t afford to make a 30million pound gamble and lose, when they can solve the issue with an upgrade, and if things don’t improve massively. They will monitor TW closely this season and if things don’t improve massively by the time negotiations start without satisfaction for Arsenal, then upgrade option will be selected and I believe that is what will happen.
There is no room at the top of professional football for sentiment and decisions need to be made for the good of the club.
Let us hope TW of 2012 reappears, comes to battle and evolves. I wish him well and would love him to prove me wrong, but sadly I don’t believe he has it within him to do it .
Lordhillwood aka Steve has been an Arsenal fan for 50 years, and was a season ticket holder at Highbury for 37 years. In the last 5 of those years he flew in and out for home games and attended many away Champion league fixtures, despite working and living in Warsaw Poland.
He was a member of the Bergkamp Wonderland podcast and featured in Little Bit Arsenal’s podcast and writes regularly for the Arsenal Identity blog. He still manages to get to London despite work and fatherhood to see games and meet friends.
Follow @Lordhilwood on twitter.