I’m a self-confessed Theo Walcott fan.
This won’t surprise regular readers of Daily Cannon, as it’s quite often a subject of debate between myself and <insert name of basically any other DC writer here>.
Yet even I would admit that Theo’s form of late has been something approaching apocalyptically bad.
That’s not to say I think he’s been as bad as the popular press would have us believe. It’s not quite got to the stage where the Arsenal world is about to end on the basis of a month or so of poor form from a man being played out of position.
No, the Arsenal world is instead close to ending because a number of players saw their killer instinct go missing at the same time. Indeed, I could certainly make a case for Alexis being in just as bad, if not worse, form, and – whisper it – Özil, Ramsey and Giroud have all also struggled in recent weeks. Walcott has still been playing well enough to get chances – and good chances at that – with his movement and timing. He’s just failed miserably to put any of them away.
Of course, Theo will always cop more stick than the likes of our Chilean simply because he’s not as effective defensively no matter how hard he works and also because his attacking threat is much more reliant on the dynamics of the team. Theo can make all the runs in the world but if the team don’t play him in then he’s not going to have much of an impact, whereas Alexis’ approach is more that of a one man army.
Yet the reality is that when Theo touches the ball six times in 90 minutes and Alexis runs down the same blind alley* six times in those same 90 minutes, they are as effective as each other: not very.
*please, even once a game, would it be possible to go down the line just to mix it up and make the defender think twice before gambling on the cut inside?
It must have been a tough selection call for Arsène Wenger on Sunday. Facing a Leicester side with two lumpy centre backs, the conventional wisdom said that Theo through the middle would be far more likely to terrify them, yet his drought in front of goal had got to the point of making him almost unpickable. In the end the manager went with Giroud, who had a top game, but I couldn’t help but feel that if I’d been holding the pen, I’d still have made a different decision.
You see, one of the most important elements of the Walcott armoury is his penchant for a big game.
I’d have started him against Chelsea, I’d have started him against Leicester and come next Tuesday, I’d also be starting him against Barcelona.
But why is Theo so much more effective in those big games?
Clearly there’s a part of it that’s linked to his mentality. His finishing seems to err significantly less in games where it matters most and you can see how pumped up he is for games like this weekend just in the Henry-esque hulking body shape he adopts. It also seems to bring out the best in Walcott in terms of wanting to be ‘the man’ and he becomes less predictable for defences because he’s willing to pick the ball up in different positions and run at players.
There’s also part of it that’s linked to the style of the opposition in those big games. Because our recent history of being also rans, most of our big fixtures have seen our opponents come at us, and consequently leave themselves more open to the kind of balls and running opportunities which Theo thrives upon.
Leicester is perhaps the outlier insofar as they came with the game plan of sitting back on Sunday, but by the time Theo entered the fray the Foxes man deficit meant that there was still a goodly amount of space and opportunity for the England man to exploit.
Perhaps the main reason Theo is so effective though is still linked to the fundamental tenet of his game: his pace. Of course, facing pace is a similar challenge for all teams, from the lowliest of League Two sides to the European Champions, but the tougher the opposition, the more our own players try to utilise that pace.
Against sides we expect to beat, we try to be very precise in everything, rarely risking the direct kind of balls and moves which Theo so pounces upon. In matches against teams where we are considered the underdog, by contrast, we seem to acknowledge that moving the ball at speed and taking a risk to create a great chance is the better approach rather than patiently probing. And that creates the chaos which makes Theo Walcott deadly.
If we’re to add another plaque to the banners encircling the upper tier at the Emirates come May, we’re going to need quite a bit more of Big Game Theo, so let’s hope that his goal on Sunday is the turning point he so desperately needs.
After all, no one much cares if you have only a handful of touches in a game if they result in match-winning goals…