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What Game Is Theo Actually Playing?

Football? Only when he decides to. Taking the fans for fools ? Certainly. His case is based on a paradox; with 21 goals (14 in Premier League) he has just achieved the most prolific season of his (not so young) career. The story can even go further as he is Arsenal's highest goalscorer this season. In terms of assists Walcott is also Arsenal's second best player providing 10 of them, ranking him 3rd in the entire Premier League. Once all these figures are on the table, it is very hard to imagine one can be critical (constructively so)...

And yet, it is impossible to ignore the issues I shall explore today. He has had a good season – statistically. It's the proof that we can do anything with statistics, and use them as we please. First of all, it is important to strike a balance when it comes to the word "decisive". On one hand there are the facts and the other hand, the rest. The form and content. The form is satisfying, the content a lot less so.

Earlier in the season his future was uncertain and according to reports the player was trying to get the most money out of his new contract whilst the club tried to re-sign him for a modest increase. This little merry-go-round type of discussion went on from November till January. In modern terms the Englishman had asked for a fair amount of money and how could we possibly blame him for wanting modern wages? But another issue occurred at that time; Walcott wanted to play upfront. All the fuss around his repositioning was similar to an ultimatum.

Subsequently, he was allowed a few games upfront along with the games on the right flank. The result was positive; some goals, an efficient involvement throughout the game and a genuine wish to impress. In the end he eventually signed a new contract.

From that day Walcott's performances have distinctly been less good. Irritating no? Even his greatest fans want him to be accountable and justify his new contract.

Why does he plug himself in a kind of "hide-and-seek" mode? Irregularity is his leitmotif. As much as he can shine in some games he can also be a handicap in others.

In reality, he only has his right flank positioning on "paper", at the start of the game. Instead of using his lightning speed (Walcott's main asset) to run deep, he prefers to drift in and step alongside Giroud (or recently Podolski). There are a few direct consequences; the full back (Sagna) is left alone and offensively, he has no solution in front of him. He can't combine with anyone, go on the overlap, outflank or anything else. Defensively, he puts himself automatically in danger if he decides to push forward because there will not be anyone to cover and support him.

walcott qpr

Here, Walcott isn't on the image. In fact, he is on the left, in the axis, nearby the center circle. He is walking and Sagna has to attack on his own. Consequently, to make up for this failure, Ramsey or Arteta will move to the right.

walcott qpr heatmap

Without any surprise, he [Walcott] is very much more in the center of the pitch rather than on the side. Apart from the worthlessness which occurs on an attacking point of view, on the defensive aspect he becomes harmful to Arsenal. Being positioned in the axis, he doesn't fulfill the efforts to reposition himself and then, help Sagna to press. Recently critics have been abundant regarding Sagna's performances but given that Walcott doesn't offer any support it isn't fair to lay blame entirely at Sagna's feet.

walcott man u

Theo isn't devoid of qualities; his speed is his main asset but he doesn't really use it to its best effect. We have many occasions to note that when he triggers his runs behind defenders backs and the pass is efficient, it's a goal. The fact is being in the center surrounded by a defender totally prevents him from runs due to an immobile position.

It's rather necessary to set off the ball-appeals at the right moment and in the good direction.

In this situation, Podolski is on the counter. Walcott is on the right. The option opening up is for Theo to propel himself up the flank to meet the trajectory of the ball between the center back and the left back in such a way as to re-centre his body afterwards.

Remaining on the flank avoids monotony in Arsenal's attacking play. Often stereotyped and with no solution, the players only have very small space. With wingers in this situation, the bloc is enlarged, the spaces are created. Instead of being in the center, Walcott is a tangible solution for the ball-holder who is Arteta.

The fact remains that this very situation barely happens anymore. With van Persie, Walcott stuck a lot more to the side. He tends to wander around more since Robin left.

We can notice here that the flank is totally empty from the center of the pitch to the goals. Conversely, the axis is blocked as Podolski and Walcott have triggered their run in the same direction and at the same time. Naturally it leads to the loss of the ball.

He can't really compensate the regular problems of positioning by good technique (dribbles) nor the way he conducts the ball. Yet that is another advantage to passing him the ball while he is running.

With a 66% average shot accuracy he has very satisfying finishing skills; indeed that is better than Podolski or Giroud. In the Premier League it's better than Ba, Benteke, Suarez, Gerrard, Dzeko, Aguero, Tevez, Rooney, G. Bale, a certain van Persie and many more. Wenger often highlights it; Theo has improved a lot in this area. And this is a reason many wanted to see him upfront when Giroud was suspended.

During the vital game against Wigan, he was set on the right again with Podolski upfront. The notion of this surely annoyed many fans. In fact, it was a success.

As we can see, Walcott stuck to his line. He spent the majority of his time on the flank. The heat-map covers the match from the start till the 77th minute, when Chamberlain replaced Podolski and consequently Walcott went up front.

Lacking since the signing of his new contract, we at last saw the type game the Englishman played before his contract-saga ended. Hard-hitting, sharp and good on the ball, it was arguably one of his best recent performances. Espinoza can confirm it; Walcott simply hammered him the whole game. He built-up his runs and tricked Wigan's defence. Besides, the fact he stayed wide offered him the possibility of crossing the ball in. He did that well too, and dealt half a dozen crosses all which were dangerous.

The question which punctuates this analysis rings like an infinite question mark; should Arsenal continue to base its play on a player who has limited implication and irregular form, or is it too dangerous to leave aside a player with such statistics?

For a long time he remained as a supersub coming on and bringing a spark to Arsenal. These performances earned him (actually regained him) a place in the team as a starter. Since his arrival Walcott has always been better as a substitute. A troublesome dilemma for the manager and one suspects the latter forces the manager to start the player...

The opinions differ quite a lot but maybe the best solution would be for Wenger to either start him and sub him off after 10 minutes or bring him on for the final 10...

Thanks to Squawka, WhoScored, ESPN, Россия-2 and Sky Sports for images and statistics.

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