The Unrealised Potential of Theo Walcott

The Unrealised Potential of Theo Walcott

Theo Walcott is one of a few remaining members of Arsenal’s group of home-grown, British Golden Boys, plucked by Arsene Wenger as a teenager from Southampton in 2006 to join the Arsenal Academy and, presumably, be groomed for greatness. And like too many of the others, he never quite matured into the level of quality originally hoped for.

Just this past transfer window, two more players from this vaunted youth group discovered by Wenger with these same high expectations left the Arsenal organisation. After ten seasons, left-back Kieran Gibbs was sold to ‎West Bromwich Albion for £7m, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain actually forced a £35m transfer to Liverpool, refusing to resign with Arsenal after completing his sixth season.

And this season, with one more year to run on his contract, it might be Walcott’s swan song. Currently, Theo is seeing little Premiership play—only 48 minutes so far through 11 league matches. They are almost non-existent behind the more preferred talents of Arsenal’s other attacking players like Lacazette, Sanchez, Welbeck, and Giroud. In fact, the voices are growing louder for Walcott to leave to get first-team opportunities elsewhere. And maybe leaving is a good idea for Theo.

What might make sense is to take a look at Theo Walcott’s performance over the past five seasons of Premiership play to see just how he has been doing. Have his numbers deteriorated over the years or not, and do they suggest he has not earned more opportunities than he is currently being given?

An examination of approximately two dozen Squawka performance criteria covering durability, attacking, passing, and defending metrics are examined from EPL seasons 2012-2013 through the past complete season of 2016-2017 follows including a review of his transfer market value history to see if it follows the metric story as well.

Durability

Walcott has often been unavailable for significant periods of campaigns due to a variety of injuries. Over five seasons, he has been missing for match play almost 60 percent of Premiership season minutes. Theo cannot be viewed as a robust player. Nevertheless, he draws 100% of his approximately £100,000 weekly paycheck: a full-time equivalent £250,000 per week for his services … a disturbingly, pricey reality.

Attacking

Goal Scoring Totals. Theo Walcott is not a volume goal scorer. Over his 10-year period with Arsenal he has scored 100 goals including those during cup play. After an encouraging 2012-2013 season during which he scored 14 goals, his production dropped to between 5-10 goals per season. It might be viewed as slightly incongruous that in spite of this relative paucity of goal production, Theo was not bashful about suggesting that he should be given the opportunity to play at center forward—where he actually was given a try by Wenger for a number of matches with less than impressive results. Now, he is fortunate to get a start on the right wing.

Goals Scoring Productivity. Although his total goal production is not impressive, a deeper dive into the numbers uncovers an interesting finding: Theo’s goals scored per minute range is about one every 160-200 minutes or an average of one goal every 177 minutes across these 5 seasons.

This is in the same range as Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez and suggests that if Walcott could stay healthy—which he has not been able to do—his goal rate could progress closer to 17-19 goals per season. Of course, this presumes remaining uninjured and on the pitch for extended periods of time during each season. Durability, sadly, is an elusive commodity for Theo.

Shooting Accuracy, Efficiency (xG). Theo’s shooting accuracy is excellent, averaging between 58%-75%. That’s exceptionally high. A closer look at his shooting quality, the ubiquitous xG metric, reveals that his shot selection and finishing ability is 1.47 times better than the average Premiership goal scorer, i.e., that he performs above the average of a group that includes players from all positions (based on seasons 2015-16 and 2016-2017 only).

Distribution, Assists, Key Passes, Chances Created

Passing productivity. Walcott’s ability to create an opportunity for teammates is also an area that does not draw plaudits—generating 17-21 completed passes per 90 minutes. Compare this with Alexis Sanchez typical 45-65 completions. Top level goal scorers like Kane, Lukaku, and Agüero generate between 24 to 29 per match. Nevertheless, it is considered average for an ordinary attacking player.

Passing efficiency. There has also been a notable drop-off in accuracy over the past two season from 83%-87% to 76%. Possibly, part of this decrease is due to a higher percentage of forward passes—typically a more challenging distribution characterised by smaller target areas, more densely defended.

Chances created (assists, key passes). Unfortunately, this carries over to very low numbers for assists and key passes with less than one chance created per match averaged over the past three seasons of play. Although playing primarily on the wing, even that position is expected to provide a higher level of service for the other attacking positions. Walcott averages only 1.5 chances created per 90 minutes over these five seasons.

Defending

Blocks, Clearance, Interceptions, Tackles and Fouls Won. Walcott’s defensive work has actually improved during the past few seasons, although he will never be considered a “stuck in” defender. His performance regarding a composite measure of blocks, clearances, interceptions plus a combination of fouls and tackles won is shown next on a per 90-minute basis.

Transfer Market Value Changes

No guesswork here. No supporting metrics. Just the marketplace reflecting what it gauges regarding the relative value of the player over time. Theo Walcott’s value peaked January 14th, 2014 (The Transfermarkt.co.uk (https://www.transfermarkt.co.uk/theo-walcott/profil/spieler/33713). The latest (intermediate) value provided for Walcott is £18.0m taken June 28th, 2017—indicating a consistent, downward direction over the past 3-4 seasons.

Conclusions

Theo Walcott’s history has been one similar to a number of the Arsenal collection of youth players who have been with the club since their teens. Players with huge promise who have almost achieved what was hoped for—including England’s national football team—but never stardom in the Premiership. The majority have either been sold, not had their contracts renewed and allowed to leave on free transfers, or on the edge of an altering decision as their contracts are about to run out as is the case with both Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott.

A review of his performance metrics comes up with less than outstanding numbers but the overall values have been stunted by the player’s very poor resiliency. If Theo Walcott were able to stay out of the trainer’s room and available for match play more than the paltry percentage, he has been able to—hovering around 40 percent over the past five seasons—his average performance is quite good when viewed on a “per minute” basis. The fact that he (theoretically speaking only) could score between 17-19 goals per season if he could survive a full season of play is presuming a great deal. Regardless, this does represent his ability if he could physically withstand the brutal demands of the Premiership 38-game schedule without being broken down, as he is, each season.

Theo’s current contract runs until June 2019, but it is a good bet that the club is going to be making a decision as early as this January transfer window. Odds are that he is about to be sold to one of several clubs who will be happy to gain the talents of this speedster who has simply failed to fully blossom under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger. Clearly, the Gunners are not going to add Walcott to the expensive list of depleting contracts such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and neither is he in their performance class. And it is highly unlikely they will be extending his six-figure weekly contract any further to sit on the bench.

Of course, another very real concern with Theo is that at 28 he is approaching the age when a footballer normally starts losing a step in speed. That is of particular concern with Walcott because truth be told, that is the primary edge he has on the pitch. No, that is his only edge.

With Lacazette, Welbeck, and Giroud ahead of him, and very likely a few new names to be brought in during the next summer transfer window, it is highly unlikely that Theo is going to get another chance. After 10 seasons with the Gunners, he hopes to have one more opportunity to start—even if it is with another organisation. Here’s hoping he gets his chance.

by

Joel Is an avid football and modern jazz fanatic. He sees the connection between the improvisational elements of each ... the connection between Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi as well as Miles Davis and Bill Evans. He wrote a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal Sports Europe between 2010 and 2011 using a demystified style of sports analytics to explain the details of football performance. Joel is a professor of Business Analytics at the University of San Francisco, School of Management. He is also an ardent fan of writers Mick Dennis, Barney Ronay, and Jonathan Wilson and the never-ending word wizardry of former Newcastle United midfielder Ray Hudson in his La Liga match calls and commentary.

http://www.twitter.com/JoelOberstone

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Comments

One response to “The Unrealised Potential of Theo Walcott”

  1. chris says:

    Let’s sell Theo while he still has some value.

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Published by EPL Index
Updated: 2017-11-08 07:16:57
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