Ever since I can remember, there was something special about Theo Walcott. His emergence at Southampton sparked a bidding war that ended up with the then-17-year-old Theo signing for Arsenal. Labelled as one of the most talented British players, Walcott continued to improve under Arsene Wenger.
Walcott’s last season was a mix up of great performances and some troubles with his contract renewal. Tired of being deployed on the wing, Theo decided he was ready to leave Arsenal unless he was given a proper chance in the heart of attack. Fortunately, the differences between the player and his manager were sorted – Walcott signed new deal and has been given a chance he wanted so badly.
It’s safe to say Theo made that chance count as he impressed in the centre forward role. The 2012-13 season has definitely been very good for the Arsenal star, but was it his best so far? How did Walcott’s game change since 2008 up to the present?
First off, it seems like last season brought us the most creative Walcott we have ever seen. Some may argue that 2011-12 campaign seemed better, with 41 chances Theo created back then compared to last season’s 38, or that his minutes per chance created ratio was much lower in 2009-10.
Still, it’s not about the quantity, but the quality of the chances a player creates, and in terms of quality Walcott had never done as well as in 2012-13. He finished that season with 10 assists to his name – more than ever since 2008, and achieved the best minutes per assist ratio, helping his teammates score every 228,2 minutes.
Fast pace and good technique have always been one of Walcott’s biggest advantages and the main factors leading to Arsene Wenger fielding his young star on the wing. Fast and comfortable on the ball, Theo is a natural dribbler. Considering that, it’s not a big surprise that his dribbling accuracy from 2008 to 2013 seemed really good, with 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons as the lowest points with 34% accuracy and 2008-09 the best one with 52%. Last term’s 43% is a decent achievement, being the second best after the aforementioned 2008-09.
What changed quite a lot about Walcott’s dribbling is how often he tries them. Although he attempted the most dribbles of the examined period in his last season, the truth is Arsenal striker has never dribbled as much as in the 2008-09. The 12,76 minutes per dribble ratio achieved in the 2008-09 is by far the lowest one, as in the four next campaigns Walcott have always attempted a dribble every 20-26 minutes.
I wouldn’t say that a higher minutes per dribble ratio is something bad, though. I’d even say it’s perfectly normal and that it proves the player is maturing properly, that he’s able to find some better options than just trying to beat the defender or two. I’ve taken a brief look at some other Premier League wingers who are known as a good, quick dribblers and it seems like every one of them tends to dribble less the more experienced he gets.
You’d want some names and numbers to prove that? Here they come. In his first season on the wing, 21-year old Gareth Bale attempted a dribbling every 17,02 minutes. In all the next campaigns his mins per dribble ratio didn’t fall below 20. Aaron Lennon didn’t have his mins per dribble ratio lower than 20 since 2008-09, when it was 18,11. Inexperienced 18-year old Raheem Sterling attempted a dribble every 16,65 minutes last season.
But let’s get back to Walcott and take a look at his crossing. Last season Theo played these kind of balls more than ever, attempting 173 crosses and achieving mins per cross ratio of 13,19 (so much crossing may be explained with Arsenal having big, strong Olivier Giroud in the box and trying to exploit it). The quantity didn’t come in pair with the highest quality, though, as only 17% of Walcott’s crosses have reached one of his teammates.
The 17% cross completition achieved by Walcott may seem good or bad depending how you’d look at it. It’s not as good as it was in 2008-09 or 2009-10, but he may be coming back to that level as he slowly gets better and better since his worst 12 % from 2010-11 campaign.
When it comes to passing, Theo remains on the same high level, finding a teammate with the similar percentage of his passes every year. It’s worth a note that passing accuracy of 83% is really good for a footballer fielded either on the wing or in the center forward role. The only thing that could slightly worry Arsenal fans is the fact that Walcott’s last season attacking half pass completition was the lowest in the examined period. Still, this change wasn’t big enough to affect his overall pass completition.
Perhaps the area of the biggest improvement made by Walcott last season is his composure in front of goal. Though his mins per shot ratio wasn’t its lowest ever, in 2012-13 campaign Theo attempted the most shots since 2008, and achieved the biggest shooting accuracy. He would also shoot on target more frequently than ever before with his mins per shot on target ratio lowering to 59. His clear-cut chance conversion rose to 50%, and overall chance conversion reached 23% – Walcott has never been this clinical. Looking at those stats, it seems quite obvious he made his central forward chance count.
All those improvements mean just one thing really – goals. Theo scored 14 of those last term, more than ever in his senior football career. He has also achieved the lowest minutes per goal ratio of 59.
Of course, Walcott’s great goalscoring form combined with the highest ever number of assists he has got to his name means that his minutes per goal involvement stat is also the best in whole examined period. Theo became much more valuable member of the Arsenal team, contributing to the goal every 95,08 minutes.
Deadlier and more creative than ever, Walcott has most definitely enjoyed a really good 2012-13 season, helping his team to reach the top 4 finish. He’s made some major improvements and become a much better footballer. But there is still more to come from Theo. He is young, talented and finally he is getting chances to play in his favorite position, though it could change now with Higuain close to signing and Giroud still in squad. Wherever Wenger fields Theo, one thing is sure – if Walcott keeps progressing like he did last season, Arsenal supporters will have plenty to cheer on.
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