18 April 2013

Where's Walco or Theo or Walcott or...

Man, I wrestled with that dumb post-title like you wouldn't believe. Do I go with "Where's Theo?" to play up the "o" at the end of Theo and Waldo, or do I get with "Where's Walcott?" to get that alliteration going? "Where's Walco?" Too gimmicky? Whichever way you slice it, Walcott's disappearing act is among the best we've seen in a while. Sure, he pops up here and there, but just like finding Waldo, you have to squint really hard to find any trace of him before, say, February. Once you set aside his early-season demotion during his contract-wrangle, he went on an absolute tear, just ripping teams apart left and right. During a 13-game stretch that started on November 6, 2012 and continued until January 30, 2013, he scored 10 goals and added 6 assists. Now, I know that this next step is a dicey one, but if you extrapolate those statistics from 13 games to 38, a full Prem season, he'd have nearly 30 goals and 18 assists, a preposterous total that would leave all other competitors so far in his wake that they'd be drowning in the waves that bounced back from the beach back out to sea.

I just hope the man isn't suffering from Adebayor-itis. Like Adebayor, Walcott seems to have played his best as contract talks ramped up. Now, of course, all players put in a little extra as they're looking for that next contract (Van Persie, anyone?), but with Adebayor, the effect was especially pronounced, so much so that he's become a symbol of the last-year-of-the-contract-superb-season phenomenon. If Walcott isn't careful, he might just supplant Adebayor as that symbol. Last year, Walcott had a decent season playing in Van Persie's shadow, tallying 11 goals and assists in 46 appearances. This year, despite that mid-season run, he's all but disappeared again.

Then again, the Adebayor-itis diagnosis seems premature. In 38 appearances so far, the lad does have 18 goals and 15 assists. His season is, though, a tale of two, if not three. In his first 11 appearances for us, he had two goals and one assist. Then, in his next 13 appearances, he added 10 goals and 6 assists. Since then, in 11 appearances, he's had no goals and 4 assists. While it's true that injuries have hampered his form, something else seems to be at work. While I've suggested in the past that our egalitarian approach to scoring is nobler and perhaps just as prolific as last year's "get out of Van Persie's way and hope he does something" approach, this merely papers over Walcott's poor form of late. Since his last goal, on January 30 against Liverpool, nine other players have scored a total of 18 goals. Lukas Podolski has played 253 minutes since January 30th and has three goals. In that same span, Walcott has played 757 minutes without a goal.

It's not that he's gone without his chances. He's had plenty of touches, plenty of shots; he's just done very little with themjust five shots on target in his last 10 matches. This just isn't enough production from someone who aspires to be, and whom many of us hope can become, our #1 striker. His desire to play a more central role just isn't born out by his production. During that mid-season purple patch, he did scored four goals from the forward position, but one was against cellar-dwellers Reading and three came in that 7-3 laugher against Newcastle. During the same stretch, playing from the wide right, he scored seven goals against higher-caliber opponents: Schalke 04, Spurs, Everton, Chelsea, and Liverpool, among others (sorry, West Ham. His goals against you  don't necessarily count in my book as "higher-caliber".).

Whether he's sulking over playing wide, nursing injury, feeling complacent, whatever the case may be, it's hard to justify giving him a starting role against Fulham on Saturday. Podolski and even Gervinho have shown greater impact in their limited appearances, and as much as I want Walcott to feature for us, we need goals, and he's not our best option at the moment.

He did well with his time against Norwich, helping to open up a defense that had tried to go on lock-down, and his assist to Podolski was pretty. However, absent an injury or terrible appearance to Podolski, Giroud, or Gervinho, I believe he'll have a tough time finding time on the pitchunless we find ourselves in dire need of offense as we did against Norwich and he can come on as a tactical substitution. Not what any of us envisioned when he put pen to paper in January.