30 May 2013

Theo Walcott, clinical finisher?

Theo Walcott's emergence this year, while hardly a break-out of the kind that former teammate Bale had with Tottenham, has many Arsenal fans drooling at what he might have in store for the 2013-14 season. Playing his first full season out of the long shadow cast by Robin van Persie, he led the team with 14 Prem goals, including three in Arsenal's final four games, each one vital to the team securing maximum points to close the season (he scored the go-ahead game winner in the 4-1 win over Wigan). His 21 goals across all competitions seems to have further strengthened if not secured his status as an elite scorer, but he'll have to show greater consistency and incisiveness if he's to climb the ranks of Prem league scorers. His Prem total, promising though it may be, still sees him in the mixed company of subs, injury-hampered players, starlets, and has-beens.

However, a quick review of his goals and assists on the season, courtesy of XavierGooner14, shows that many of Theo's goals have shown a clinical, even delicate touch, an array of dinks, curlers, and others that float just past a keeper's outstretched fingertips into the back of the net. While they may lack the ferocity or intensity of the howitzers that other attackers unleash, Theo has shown that he has this weapon available and is not afraid to use it. A quick view of the video shows that roughly a dozen of his goals came on well-placed shots rather than power-shots, as Theo looked to put the ball out of the keeper's reach rather than blasting it past him. As gratifying as those cannon-blasts are from a highlight-reel standpoint, a goal is a goal, and nothing is more deflating to a team than to see the ball in the back of their own net.

While it's true that Theo hit a dry-patch, failing to score in eleven matches from February to late April, van Persie, for example, was scarcely better across the same span, scoring once in eleven matches. In fact, according to whoscored.com, Theo still managed to contribute during that patch, tallying four assists to van Persie's one. Of our 12 goals from set-pieces, Theo assisted on four, showing great placement on these and on crosses, putting the ball reliably just outside the six, freezing keepers on the line for the likes of Mertesacker and Giroud to head home. Again from whoscored.com, Theo features in their "Best English XI" on the strength of his 7.4 rating playing from the right.

Further, Theo is developing a signature-move that echoes that of no less a scorer than Thierry Henry--sprinting down the flank, running onto a through-ball, and curling one in off the far-post as a helpless keeper splays and clutches in vain. The more proficient Theo gets at this, and the more renown he claims, the more-lethal he'll be in other ways. That is, as keepers learn to fear that curl to the far post, the more Theo can shift gears, going to the near-post or dinking over a keeper who's committed to stopping that curl.  This might even allow him to build on his 66% shot-accuracy (from squawka).

None of this negates or eliminates lingering concerns over his reliability. Until he can eliminate (or at least reduce the length of) the dry-spells, he won't join the ranks of the Prem's best scorers. He's 24. Van Persie didn't deliver more than 14 Prem goals until he was 27. I don't think we'll have to wait three more years in Theo's case. I think that when we revisit the issue a year from now, we may just be celebrating his break-out season. I, for one, would love to see a pantherine #14 loping down the flanks, terrorizing opposing defenses at the mere thought of what he's going to do next.