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:
CHANCES CREATED BY THEO WALCOTT PER SEASON:
|SEASON||GAMES PLAYED||CHANCES CREATED|
(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):
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
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 WALCOTT against WEST BROM vs OLIVIER GIROUD against NEWCASTLE
|Walcott vs West Brom||Giroud vs Newcastle|
|Shots (On Target)||8 (6)||3 (2)|
|Passes (Passing Accuracy)||13 (100%)||38 (79%)|
|Crosses (Accurate Crosses)||3 (1)||-|
|Aerial Duels (Successful)||0/1||9 (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 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.
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!