28 December 2013

Walcott hits the ground running: three matches, four goals...

After being brought back from injury with caution, Theo Walcott has exploded with four goals in his last three appearances and is now the club's third-leading scorer with five goals across all competitions, despite making only fifteen appearances, (five as a sub). Since coming back from his abdominal injury, he's subbed in six times, quietly refinding some fitness and match-readiness. Since his return to a starting role, he's collected a brace against Man City and again against West Ham, suggesting that, yes, he can be lethal enough to look at 20 Prem goals on the season.

Of course, it's unlikely that he'll continue this pace; with 20 Prem matches to be played, he'd need 16 goals—a rate of 0.8 goals per game, down from his current 1.33 goals per game and nearly twice his rate from last year of 0.49. Then again, with other scorers, namely Giroud and Ramsey, having slowed down, we need someone to step up. Whereas Giroud and Ramsey have logged heavy minutes, Walcott comes in with fresh legs, all the more vital given his pace. Of course, the flip-side to this is that he's come back from injuries that are probably not 100% healed.  That said, he should still have an edge on defenders that is sharper than it might have been had he been playing regularly over the last two months. Now, especially, as players are weary from the Christmas fixture-clutter, we may be seeing the silver lining to being MIA since mid-September.

And we're not referring to goals themselves. He's converting shots at an impressive rate. According to @orbinho, his conversion-rate (goals divided by shots taken) is actually superior to the lethal Aguero and Suarez. I'm not putting him in their class yet, not until he can create his own chances. Still, his conversion-rate since returning to a starting role is even more eye-popping—keeping in mind that it's a small sample-size, his conversion-rate is 40%. Again, this is probably not sustainable over the long run, so let's look at what might happen if he regresses to a more-suitable rate of, say, 15%. To get 16 more goals, he'd need 106 shots. There are 20 Prem matches left, and—I'm just spit-balling here—that's five shots per game. Even if we admit that the Man City match was more slap-stick than football and that West Ham ships more than FedEx, five shots per game is not an absurd target.

Let's not forget that Walcott and Özil are still at that tender, awkward stage of their budding relationship, each blushing a bit, abashed, averting the eyes and tracing patterns with his toe. As they get to know each other better—perhaps through a chance meeting on the Tube or a singles-mixer some weekend—we could just see those buds blossom, whether it's a quick 1-2 or a through-ball that sends Walcott in on goal. I'm certainly not equating the two, but Walcott is similar to Ronaldo when it comes to pace (we'll set aside the dribbling and finishing, convenient though it may be). The salient point here is that, similar to his role at Real Madrid, Özil might find in Walcott a similarly fruitful target, one to whom he can send through-balls that unleash a pacey winger against defenses caught-out on the counter. Walcott may not get five shots per game, but, through the service he could get from Özil (and others), he might get chances handed to him on a silver platter often enough to catapult him towards that 20 Prem-goals target. We could do a lot worse than to hope for that.

Right. Well, we've got a tetchy trip to St. James's Park on Sunday, and I'd love nothing more than to see Walcott continue his run of form. In fact, I'd be thrilled to see him reprise his "oh, I fell—no, I didn't—GOAL!" performance, nearly a year ago to the day. I leave you then, with this moment of glory: