It’s not been a year to remember for Theo Walcott.
Devoid of form and favour, he missed out on the European championships, and finally gave up on his centre forward dream.
It may be the best thing that has ever happened to him.
Let’s just get it out the way: his penalty miss was terrible.
He did well to win the spot kick in the first place, holding onto the ball and darting dangerously into the area until Moreno took him out.
Mignolet is a poor keeper, but even he can stop a shot from 12 yards if you put it a comfortable distance away and at the perfect diving height.
It appears that it is mutually exclusive to play for Arsenal and be any cop at taking penalties. If you need proof, just take a look at our efforts during the Euros.
Theo being Theo, though, he then went on to put away an infinitely more difficult chance. Iwobi’s pass was behind him, and it took a great first touch to get the ball out from his feet and into position for a pinpoint strike with his second.
It was one of many good touches from the Englishman, a player who is often derided for his lack of technical ability. There were occasions throughout the game where he controlled the ball with deft movements, and while his haters will choose to focus on a moment late on when he trod on the ball trying to do something special surrounded by three Liverpool defenders, it shouldn’t mask what was actually an accomplished display.
This particular touch made his chance, and Mignolet had no chance as the ball fizzed past his right hand and into the far corner.
It was just reward for a first half which saw him give Alberto Moreno a torrid time. The Liverpool man didn’t know whether to drop off or get tight, and Walcott had him on toast.
It helped that for the first time in a long time, his teammates seemed prepared to try a long ball. Often ineffectually, mind, but crucially that variation made it very difficult for Moreno to cover Walcott due to the unpredictability it introduced.
Theo suffered from Arsenal’s lack of composure on the ball second half, as both centre backs and central midfielders were given less time to pick passes and instead of falling back on longer balls as an outlet, gave up trying to play forward passes.
Walcott found himself on the shoulder of the last defender a few times after the break, but the pass never came to capitalise. Shouts of “run Theo” ignored the part where there’s only so far forward can run before he’s offside. Instead he needed the ball played early, so that he could unleash his pace.
His threat became too predictable, allowing Moreno to get tighter and close the space he had previously had when receiving the ball to feet.
He showed that he can still cross decently, and pleasingly showed a willingness to go both ways around his full back. However, he’s still very dependent on the play of his teammates to render him effective. When they get it right, he’s devastating; when they don’t, he’s a passenger.
He worked hard throughout, tracking back in a more determined fashion than in recent months, and in doing so gave away fouls and put himself about a bit. He even won a few headers second half for teammates who were either half asleep or permanently offside.
I’m sure he would have had a terrible game up front. Just as Alexis wasn’t in the game, Walcott would have struggled to impose himself on the patterns of play. Indeed, if Theo had turned in a performance like that of the Chilean, he’d have been hung out to dry, to the detriment of his confidence and likely his season.
As it was, Walcott looked dangerous in spells and demonstrated how he can be deadly in front of goal if we can just play to his strengths a little more.
Maybe that right wing isn’t so bad after all.