Decision time on who leads the line?

I must say, I got invited to do a piece for Gunners Town nearly a month ago but I dawdled on it for a little while. Why? One does not simply wake up and write for Gunners Town- the piece has to be just right, about the right topic. I had a myriad of ideas, but after watching the debacle against West Ham on Sunday I realized that Theo Walcott had been given 38 minutes (including injury time) and I could not recall seeing him at any point as we struggled to create on the day. We’ve been hearing a lot about Theo being able to play as a centre-forward for a while now, and we’ve watched him play there with varying levels of success, but how viable is he as an option in that position? Is he better as a centre-forward than say, Olivier Giroud?

Before I go into the nitty-gritty, allow me to digress a little. Not much is made of this, but we’ve definitely been watching Theo changing his playing style over the recent past as he attempts to make the switch from the wing to the middle. Theo Walcott was introduced to the world as an exciting, electric winger with pace to burn. People then berated the then young Englishman for having the pace but not the “footballing brain” and we bemoaned his lack of end-product. Theo then sharpened his finishing ability and begun to produce the sort of impact we all were satisfied with. But since then, and especially since his cruciate ligament injury in January 2014, we’ve seen significant change in his overall impact on the game. Let’s take his creative stats as an example:

Has Theo changed since this injury in Jan 2014?


(Key Passes + Assists)

Note the huge difference between 2013/2014 and 2014/2015, despite making one more appearance in the latter? Let’s sample his overall impact in an offensive sense, between 2012/2013 and 2014/2015, per game:

THEO WALCOTT IN 2012/13 vs THEO WALCOTT IN 2014/15 (Average per game):

Chances Created1.20.3

That’s a reduction in every parameter. And just for good measure, Walcott made 25 tackles in 2012/2013; an average of 0.78 tackles per game. Hazard a guess at how many he attempted in 2014/2015? Just one!! One in 14 appearances…just one! For anyone who cares to know, that’s 0.07 tackles per appearance. I know he’s not on the pitch to make tackles, but it’s just one of those things that tell you how involved he was in the overall play. I must say it frustrates me just a little when I watch Theo ghost through games these days when we all know he clearly has a lot more in his locker to wreak more havoc on opposition defences

Olly v the Toon

Now having established just how much Theo has changed his style of play since coming back from his injury, let’s take a look at the real reason for this post- who should start between Walcott and Giroud? Or rather, when should either start in place of the other?

As a means of comparison; I picked out league games from last season where Giroud and Walcott received their highest performance ratings from Squawka, which for Theo was our last game of the season (4-1 against West Brom) and for Giroud, our 2-1 win away to Newcastle.

Theo destroys WBA


 Walcott vs West BromGiroud vs Newcastle
Shots (On Target)8 (6)3 (2)
Chances Created1-
Passes (Passing Accuracy)13 (100%)38 (79%)
Crosses (Accurate Crosses)3 (1)-
Aerial Duels (Successful)0/19 (4)

What the table above will not show you is how Giroud was involved defensively in protecting our slender 1-goal lead in what was a difficult second half at St. James’ Park- he made 3 blocks, 3 clearances and a tackle, competed for nine aerial balls and won four. Not to mention that both his goals were headers from set-pieces. Walcott meanwhile attempted zero tackles, one aerial duel which was unsuccessful, did not connect with any set-piece and made no blocks, clearances or interceptions against West Brom.

Generally speaking, Theo’s contribution per match has been on the wane since 2013 while Giroud’s has been consistent if not increasing. Giroud’s chances created per season, for instance, is 34 in 34 appearances (2012/2013), 37 in 36 appearances (2013/2014) and 28 in 27 appearances (2014/2015). On goals scored, it’s 11 in 34 appearances (2012/2013), 16 in 36 appearances (2013/2014) and 14 in 27 appearances (2014/2015)… which means his goals per game ration has risen steadily from 0.32 to 0.44 to 0.5 last season. This therefore means in Giroud you have a forward who now virtually assures you a goal every two games (19 per league season) and a chance created per game. Defensively speaking, the game against Newcastle illustrates how effective he can be at both ends of the pitch after scoring twice, then making three blocks and three clearances at the back.

Theo trying to change. Intentional?

Theo on the other hand now attempts fewer dribbles, fewer passes and creates fewer chances than ever before. I certainly believe that Theo’s reduced contribution to the all-round team play is deliberate as he tries to morph into the striker he wants us to believe he is, and it does not necessarily make him a weaker option for the central striking role in comparison with Giroud.

What the numbers above don’t tell you, for instance, is how deep teams forced to play with Theo on the pitch so as to reduce the space for him to exploit in behind the defence (which means more space for the likes of Cazorla and Ozil to operate). Or how Theo’s movement is sharp enough to get him goals despite minimal contribution otherwise, like against West Brom where he still managed eight attempts and scored a hat-trick despite doing little else for the rest of the game.

A more physical telling presence

Giroud’s impact, meanwhile, is a lot more telling aside from the goals he scores. His physical presence, aerial ability, excellent first touch, ability to hold the ball up, and his defensive contribution especially when defending set-pieces has already been proven; so if it’s a question of which player has the better all-round game then it’s the Frenchman.

With Theo, it’s a matter of picking which games and which situations suit him best. We’ve already seen that he’s less effective against deep, well-organized defences (Chelsea and West Ham), and he’s not ideal when defending narrow leads (don’t be fooled, bringing Giroud on for Walcott during the Community Shield was a defensive move). So, in a nutshell, Theo’s metamorphosis has turned him into the sort of player who needs circumstances to be “just right” before you can afford him some game time. The conditions that are “just right”, one would presume, is in a more open game against the more ambitious sides in the league or in Europe? Or when we have a comfortable enough lead to throw Theo on, as sort of a luxury player? Or maybe… maybe we just need the old Theo back after all.

About Lloyd Gitonga our guest who you can follow @Llyod_Gitonga

I am a 23-year old Kenyan who begun supporting Arsenal quite by chance in 2005 but I got taken in by the football since, and was nick-named “the professor” for having a little bit obsession niggle with football in high school. Writing is all I know, and if it’s about Arsenal then I’m all in. Also, Thierry Henry was signed on my 7th birthday, which basically means I was born for this club and I have the coolest birthday in the world. When I finally get to visit the Emirates, or Ashburton Grove as I hope it will be named one day, the whole world will know about it. @Goonerdave66 will get me my ticket!

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  1. Truth August 11, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

    Neither of the above mentioned players are good enough to lead Arsenal’s front line. good squad players but we’ll never win any major challenges until we have a world class striker up top

  2. omar August 11, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

    just another point… The last 4 matches arsenal have played with giroud upfront, has yielded 1 goal and that was an own goal at old trafford. 3 of those matchew were against swansea,sunderland and west ham at home. Its not a coincidence, teams have found out how to play against us with giroud upfront. The worrying thing is in all those matches was we never really looked like scoring either.

    • Lloyd Gitonga August 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      I wouldn’t be so quick to heap all the blame on Giroud though mate 🙂 Against West Ham for instance the failings really happened with those behind him.

      • Tim August 12, 2015 at 10:33 am #

        I just find with Giroud up front the final third tends to get very congested. Even with possession we don’t seem to create many clear chances. Also its painful to see G get it out wide on the counter. His lack of pace take the danger away so quickly.

        Im not sure Walcott is the answer but only because im concerned with his consistency. We look much more dangerous when TW starts though. Like we could go score 5 or 6 rather than maybe 1 or 2 with G.

  3. Fatboy gooney August 11, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

    Walcott is avoiding the risk of getting injured again,
    That’s why you have seen a decline in his contribution since he returned from injury

    • Lloyd Gitonga August 11, 2015 at 7:20 pm #

      I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than that mate 🙂

  4. Poz August 11, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    Well written, mate, but I think I can put up a much stouter advocacy for Theo as a starter than this.
    You went with Goals per Game for Theo in 2014/15 despite how many times he played reduced minutes in those games? Surely you should look at goals per 90. And if you did, you would see Theo scores 1 goal per 90 mins ie up with the best strikers.
    Theo is not on the wane. He has shifted from being an assister who sometimes scores to become a scorer who sometimes assists (ie 2014/15 and 15/16.)
    And although you mention Theo’s ability to make space for others, you then go on to imply that Theo has little contribution beyond goals. His runs and the space they create ARE his major contribution.
    And although his contribution to build up play is generally derided, it’s funny how often he makes decisive pass in our goals.
    In the end, it’s all opinion but I think you might be selling Theo short here.

    • Lloyd Gitonga August 11, 2015 at 7:16 pm #

      First off, thanks for reading 🙂 Fair comment that, I should have gone with goals per 90 as opposed to goals per game… He started 4 games last season as compared to nine the season before that. I did acknowledge his switch to a scorer who sometimes assists as you aptly put it, but I still believe his overall impact has reduced when compared to seasons past.

      • Lloyd Gitonga August 14, 2015 at 7:03 pm #

        Also, “goals scored” was not the only parameter I was looking at in this article… it was more geared towards his overall output in the game. And even going by his “per 90 minutes” stats this has reduced. In the 2012/2013 season, Theo had a goal or assist every 71 minutes. In 2014/2015, he had a goal/assist every 91 minutes. Again, in 2012/2013 he created a chance for a team-mate every 60 minutes, while in 2014/2015 he did so every 114 minutes and actually didn’t register an assist in his appearances in 2014/2015 season.

  5. Charlie August 11, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

    I am not the type to bang on about buying new players but in this case it is warranted. I’d be interested to know what Aguero contributes defensively, or Sturridge. Arsenal is a short team so perhaps they need a tall striker to defend at set pieces. I think Benteke is a big upgrade on Giroud. I also think Jovetic would have been an excellent signing. We do not have a single striker who can be relied upon to shoot accurately with power on a consistent basis. Wellbeck has a terrible scoring record and Giroud has a bad record considering the chances created for him. It’s simply not good enough.

    • Lloyd Gitonga August 11, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

      I would consider Giroud’s better defensive contribution as a one-up on the rest. That’s besides the point though. I’m not averse to an upgrade on Giroud/Welbeck/Walcott though, and I do believe the manager when he says if he finds the right option then he will make his move. He did so when he moved Szczesny to make way for Cech. I also happen to be a big fan of Benteke’s, even did a piece on him in 2013.

  6. Charlie August 11, 2015 at 8:09 pm #

    Henry didn’t do much defending either. Fact is that if you’ve got a world class finisher that is enough, priceless, add height in other positions to defend set pieces.

  7. Matt August 12, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

    Nowhere in this article is it mentioned how few minutes he got per match in 2014/15 vs 2012/13. You are comparing total game stats in 2012/3 vs total game stats in 2014/5 when in fact Walcott was on the pitch for an average of 75 mins in 2012/13 but only 35 mins in 2014/15.

    As an example of how much this affects the stats you quote, on a per minute basis in 2012/3 he scored a goal every 172 minutes, whereas in 2014/5 it was one every 98 minutes.

    If you are going to use stats to back up a critique on a player, make sure you understand the implications and details behind the stats you are using.

    • Lloyd Gitonga August 14, 2015 at 7:00 pm #

      Hi Matt, first of all thank you very much for reading my piece 🙂 You are right, it was an oversight on my part not to take into account Theo’s reduced minutes on the pitch between the two seasons. However, I can still use the same parameters you’ve used above to make the point I was making in the article. In the 2012/2013 season, Theo had a goal or assist every 71 minutes. In 2014/2015, he had a goal/assist every 91 minutes. Again, in 2012/2013 he created a chance for a team-mate every 60 minutes, while in 2014/2015 he did so every 114 minutes and actually didn’t register an assist in his appearances in 2014/2015 season.

  8. DEW August 12, 2015 at 5:49 pm #

    When Walcott plays others defend dip, This by itself is contribution to the defence. Giroud is good for hold up play, but Walcott is the better one to make the difference, We have a lot of memorries. Even last season arsenal scoring was on decline till Walcott is introduced at Manchester game. I remember united boss saying arsenal is not scoring well enough just before the match. Then the goal fist returns with westbrom then FA final. We did not also look threatened at the community shield game.

  9. SharkeySure August 13, 2015 at 7:35 pm #

    Very well written piece, thanks.

    Theo’s lack of involvement absolutely kills me. Its just not what a top footballer does. Someone asked how much defending Aguero does, well they should just watch him closing down defenders time and time again.

    In my opinion, Theo simply lacks the guts and determination to ever be a top player. He surely knows his own failings, but doesn’t seem too bothered to change or work on them to improve.

    Last season vs Leicester (H)..he completed only 7 passes playing for a team that has so much possession. I can’t work out how that is even possible.

    • Lloyd Gitonga August 14, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

      Thank you very much Sir 🙂 I do share your sentiments and frustration, we all know Theo is capable of so much more than this.

  10. Irvin Jalang'o August 15, 2015 at 8:03 am #

    Lloyd, Walcott’s style of play has indeed changed. He scores, yes, but you wouldn’t compare his effort to that of many other strikers around. His work rate is… let’s just say different. But I agree with you.

  11. Lloyd Gitonga August 15, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    Irvin, thank you very much for reading 🙂

  12. Tel January 4, 2016 at 2:03 am #

    Giroud shits on Walcott from an astronomical height, and I cannot believe Walcott has the gall to demand a pay rise and hold us to ransom each time when he barely ever plays more than half a season.

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