16 April 2013

vs. Everton: Walcott to Win it

The latest of the "pick to click" selections is one Theo Walcott, a man guilty of a scoring drought that stretches back to the end of January, a span of nine games. While he has tallied four assists in that time, this drought has seen him drop from our #1 scorer as Cazorla now has twelve and
Giroud, like Walcott, has eleven. That the drought seems to follow tightly on the heels of having signed a new contract, there is the hard-to avoid and uncomfortable suggestion that complacency has set in. While it's true that he has missed a few matches to injury, it is imperative that Walcott return to the goal-scoring form he showed earlier in the season if we are to continue our push to the top of the table, and leaving his mark during today's run-in with Everton would be a crucial time to do it. When we last met at Goodison Park in November, Walcott scored so quickly that most of us were still settling in, 52 seconds in, on a nicely-delivered chip to the back-post. He was fairly quiet the rest of the way as we settled for a draw.

That match saw us still limping along in 7th place, struggling to find form or consistency. At the time, we had recently thumped Spurs 5-2 and beaten Montpelier, but we also drew with Aston Villa and lost to Swansea. Walcott, however, had been in a fine run of form, going for three goals and three assists in the last four games and would go on for a hat-trick and two assists against Newcastle in that sloppy 7-3 win a month later. Since then, he's quieted down considerably with three goals and five assists in 14 matchesdecent but the return on the investment or commitment we made when he signed in January, coinciding uncomfortably with the start of this patch.

Now, however, he has something to prove. Coming against Norwich, he had thirty minutes, and his impact was noticeable if not as dramatic as Podolski's. Using his speed to good effect, he helped to stretch Norwich's defense (which at the time consisted of the entire team sitting behind the ball) with intelligent movement. In years past, he might have simply turned his back to a teammate and looked for a long pass to chase to the corner. His movement was much-more varied, and he made good use of his touches. Particularly vital was the way he fought through the box to make a pass to Podolski for the clincher. Given the expectations that have built up around him and in the insistence that he deliver on his new contract, not to mention his past penchant for taking ill-advised shots, the lay-off to Podolski was a refreshingly smart move. That it led to a third goal is icing on the cake.

As with my previous post regarding Giroud, maybe it's wrong to expect Walcott to score 20-odd  goals a season. Like Giroud, he probably succumbed to pressure to replace Van Persie's goals, although his was probably laced with ambition: "finally, I get to be #1 forward". Like Giroud, he may have pressed too hard and tried for something memorable when something basic would have delivered better results. Whatever the case may be, we need him to do well, if not excel, this evening. Everton comes on a decent run and are nipping at our heels; in their last six, they've lost at Norwich and drawn at Spurs with three wins, including a strong 2-0 over Man City. We can't afford to drop points as we seek to stay above them and Spurs while applying pressure on Chelsea and Man City.

I doubt that Walcott will ever make us forget the likes of Bergkamp or Henry or Pires, but I'm hoping that today marks the beginning of an ascendancy that could see him get mentioned, at least once in a while, in the same breath as them. The prediction, then: one goal, one assist. Come on, Theo; you can do it!