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Right sided attackers: last season Theo was brilliant – but who will do it this year?

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If you think you know your Arsenal, it is time to think again. Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.

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By Walter Broeckx

Continuing the review of the team for the coming season, from left to right we go into  our attack. As your midfield maestro I now collect the ball on the left and play it over the top to the onrushing grease lightning of Arsenal: Theo Walcott.

In the first years after arriving at the Emirates Theo was always suffering from some injuries. We may have forgotten about it but I do remember that he had some troubles with returning shoulder injuries. I think two operations, lots of rehabilitation work, learning how to run again and how to balance again hampered him in his first years.

He wasn’t as bad as Robin Van Persie on the injury front but he had his share of troubles. The season before the last he started like a hurricane only to get injured and after that it was more a soft breeze. But still he managed to score 9 goals and get 7 assists in that season.

The season just gone by is in fact the first season where Walcott was almost fit during the whole season. He started in 32 games so you could say that when he is fit he will start on the right up front. He scored 8 goals and gave the assist to another 11. So that is a return in goals in total of 19 last season. Or putting it in other words: Walcott was directly involved in 25% of our goals.

And yet…. yep….yeah…sigh… let’s get on his back shall we?  Just a number to compare with his involvement in 19 goals last season. His predecessor with the same number. When he was 23 years old (some 11 years ago) he then was involved in 20 goals that season in 35 matches. He scored 17 and assisted only 3.  No need to start shouting blasphemy about this comparison but just to put some things in perspective. I really don’t think being involved directly in 19 goals is bad. No, I think it is great. If our left side of attack would have had the same stats…well we would have been a title contender.

Because Walcott did on his own better than all the players we used at the left flank. But let that not stop the AAA from saying he is useless of course. And if you keep those stats in mind I hope that now some people start to understand why we bought Podolski. Because Podolski is a striker that can score some 10-15 goals on his own and has an eye for the team mate also. So maybe the goals will be more spread from next season on and our attack will be more dangerous from both sides.

So where do we go from here? If Walcott signs a new deal he will be the main man on the right hand side. And a flank combination of Podolski/Walcott will make any central striker score goals. Who ever that striker may be he will get his chances to score goals. Lots of goals. So I really hope that Theo will stay and continues getting better with each year. He is stronger than before, as fast as before, and he is starting to get a bit more relaxed.

Of course he has missed chances but name me one striker that doesn’t? No, not even Messi. I have seen him miss the easiest of chances (not many times true but it happens). Of course he will take wrong decisions sometimes. Sometimes a shot was the best option and he will pass. Sometimes he will shoot and miss when another player was better placed. That is part of football.

And some people on MOTD like to highlight those wrong decisions a lot and so they create that image even more. I really do think that Theo will score more than 10 goals himself this season (I think around 15 in fact) and add to that another 10 assists at least he will be involved in somewhere between 25-30 goals next season.

But …. He enters his final year of his contract and the negotiations keep on running and running. So we might end up seeing him leave. And to be honest that would be maybe a bigger blow than Van Persie leaving. I know the Ox could play there. But then we risk that we burn him next season. I would rather have the Ox playing in different positions as a back up most of the time. But if Theo would leave the temptation to start him would be there and well no more Jack if possible. Let the Ox slowly become the player he will become. And I think he can become an even better player than Theo. But not yet now!

So if Theo stays I think we will be fine regardless what Van Persie does. If Theo goes we need another extra striker. Unless Wenger plays Podolski on the right flank? Well if we can believe the media (difficult one) he has mentioned that possibility. Hmm come to think of it Podolski coming in from the right to the middle with the ball in front of his left foot unleashing a rocket… He is capable of doing those things.

But I really do think that having a flank combination of Podolski/ Walcott will be the best option for next year. They have speed, strength, a bit of madness and most of all they can score goals and give assists. And if they switch flanks during the games they could drive their defenders nuts at times. I really would like that idea.

 

27 comments to Right sided attackers: last season Theo was brilliant – but who will do it this year?

  • akasuna

    I like the idea too..

  • Goona Gal

    Ryo & Afobe are very credible options.

  • wambam

    with Giroud in the centre – i know i know you’re getting to that – but tap in after tap in to 30 a season. I’d have Ryo as another back up option too, right or left.

  • davi

    Gervinho could improve a lot this season as well. Surprised he’s not even mentioned.

  • Goona Gal

    Theo is 65% the finished article, he is a great player right now, but could develop into world class player over the next 2-3 yrs. It won’t happen if he leaves and I don’t believe he should be asking for huge bucks right now. This season he will have players like Ryo who has impressed me by his ability to pick things up quickly and his ability to read the game. This season could be his break out year.

    A lot of people don’t realise that Afobe is fast also, granted not as fast as Theo, but I think he is more economical with the acceleration he gains from tearing away from defenders. He has taken a few knocks because he is not afraid to put his body on the line to stab the ball into the net because he is desperate for the win. I don’t think he could replace Theo this season, but next season could be a real possiblity if he can stay fit.

    I like up and coming players like Wilfred Zaha, but I have no idea how fast he actually is and he probably needs to move to a better club if he is going to develop further. I have always been quick to show support for Theo, but he is far from irreplaceable in this current squad. In terms of uniqueness, Theo would be more valuable to any other ball playing team in some respects. As in I can’t think of too many other players in other teams that are like him.

    Of course Gervinho can play on either side and this would be the obvious go to guy, but in terms of who else could step up, Ryo and Afobe. If Theo does’nt want to sign on and a offer of £20m+ comes in, I think we should listen seriously.

  • goooner

    Yes, Gervinho is a natural right winger, and will most likely be more relaxed and improve in his second season here… should be mentioned imo…

  • WalterBroeckx

    I mentioned Gervinho in the article on the left flank as he mostly started over there. But I admit he can start there also

  • WalterBroeckx

    Goona Gal,
    I have seen a few things from Afobe that really looked good. In the U19 I saw a big part of the game against Greece. He scored a great header and was for me (bit I’m probably biased) the best striker on the field. He was too much surrounded by big strong lumps with not enough technical skills to play him in better or to develop some passing the ball around system.

    I think he is more a central striker from what I have seen. But well what do I know…. 😉 Who knows what Wenger makes of him? Maybe a midfielder ? 😉

  • Goona Gal

    @ Walter, I totally agree that he should end up being a striker. I guess I am just following the AW programme of developing total footballers. Starting out on the wings is the usual MO for young players.

    When Afobe plays for England it is interesting to watch, I don’t think the U19 manager realises how the opposition study their opposition, even at that level. If the manager had been more tactical against France, I think they would of advanced. Afobe needed one of the more physical players in the team to just hold up the ball for him and give him the lay off when he had found space. Afobe should be playing for the under 21’s, but I guess he will get that call up the day after his call up to the senior squad.

    Nevertheless, it is a very good learning opportunity for a striker to play in situations where he has to create for himself and knows that he can’t be sloppy with the ball because his team might not get it off the opposition for a long spell.

    I definately don’t see him as a midfielder as it would be a waste. I would like to see him play alongside someone like Rosicky in midfield, as Rosicky can play the ball early into space for him.

  • Pad gooner

    Gervinho/Ryo, Podolski/Giroud, Walcott/Ox looks like an awesome attack. But I feel even with Walcott staying, we need someone to play on the right side, if Walcott is either injured or benched. Gerv could play on the right but I think we have one less winger.

    If we indeed buy a striker as RVP’s replacement then we could have a splendid attack options.

    RVP(repl)/Podolski/Giroud
    Gerv/Ryo/Podolski Walcott/Ox/Gerv

  • bjtgooner

    Hopefully Walcott will stay and if so will start on the right. However, we have plenty of good options as noted above. I am impressed just how well Wenger has rebuilt the attack, even though Bentner, Arshavin & Vela(now gone) have not come up to expectations and assuming RVP will soon be on his way. Despite this we still have a good looking attack.

    If our defenders are fit we also seem to be well covered there; the one numerical weakness seems to be midfield – where Wilshere, Rosicky and Frimpong will miss the start of the season, so an additional body or two here would seem appropriate.

  • I’ll be honest when I say that I think Walcott is wasted out on the wing.

    His passing accuracy isn’t anything special, his crossing is even worse, he isn’t a great dribbler as he simply relies on his pace to go past people most of the time.

    Put him upfront however and he’s a totally different animal.

    Playing off the shoulder of a defender, his natural pace makes full impact (as demonstrated against Germany some years ago), and I don’t think his finishing is that bad either.

    I think he’d do a great job playing off Giroud, but that then raises the question of where you play Podolski, unless you have both of them more withdrawn and rely on the midfield and full backs to provide more width.

    I personally think Wenger will move him on for a fair price as he’s never seemed to have the faith in him as a striker, and he isn’t good enough on the wing half the time…

  • Goona Gal

    @ Indy Bones I disagree with you.

    Considering the goals he scored and number of assists from Theo out on the wings, you can hardly say the player is wasted. When I use my own two eyes, Theo’s passing is quite good (I use Scott Parker as the bench) and improving. I would also say that he is improving his ability to run with the ball too.I think you also sell the player short by saying that Theo should just be playing off the shoulder of the last defender a la Micheal Owen. The game has changed and besides ‘goal hanging’ doesn’t suit the fluid movement of Arsenal’s game.

    Personally, I do think Arsene Wenger has a lot of faith in Theo to end up being a striker, but I think he is concious that Theo started his football education a bit later in life, as well as the pressure and criticism aimed at Theo. Theo has admitted himself that he has only recently learnt when best to use his speed and when to reserve it. He can’t run around like Usain Bolt for 90 mins, hence the super sub role sometimes given. He still has to improve his technique and finishing ability, more so than his crossing in my opinion.

  • bjtgooner

    @Goona Gal

    I agree with your comments, Walcott did very well on the wings last season & his control, passing and crossing has improved each season. Assuming he stays, I think he will kick on again next season and will provide a lot of assists for whoever is playing in the center.

    There are signs that his finishing is improving, but he has a bit to go yet.

  • Let’s look at this objectively guys and gals.

    Last season Walcott averaged 13% crossing accuracy (as per OPTA stats), now compare this to most other wingers:

    Lennon – 25%
    A.Johnson – 25%
    A.Young – 20%
    Milner – 22%
    Downing – 23%
    Ox – 23%
    Pilkington – 34%
    Silva – 27%
    Bale – 24%
    Valencia – 25%
    Nani – 22%
    Mata – 26%
    Dempsey – 33%
    Ben Arfa – 19%
    Nasri – 26%
    Jarvis – 27%

    He’s probably one of the worst crossers in the league in regards to accuracy, the stats clearly show this and most other AFC fans I’ve spoken to have complained about his final ball.

    His general passing accuracy is also the 2nd worst out of the above players, with only Jarvis from Wolves performing worse (69.71% compared to Walcott’s 70.59%, top player from the above was Nasri with 85.67 – 15% better than Walcott…).

    Playing off the shoulder of the defender isn’t goal hanging, Lineker and Muller are two great examples of goal hangers, and Walcott is nothing like that. Give him the ball 30 yards from goal, let him knock it past the centre back and see how many catch him…

    His finishing HAS improved, but being stuck on the wing doesn’t help him use it!

    In short, his crossing is poor compared to other wingers, his passing is also worse, and when his true forte is his pace and finishing, then kicking the ball past a full back to only screw the cross up is horribly counter-productive…

  • Goona Gal

    @ Bjt, Theo is improving every year.

    @ Indybones – I am just not sure about those stats in isolation.

    See my interactive link below which shows Theo’s bench mark against Europe’s best on a site I have recently found.

    http://www.arsenalreport.com/editorial/scarecrow-how-theo-walcott-compares-to-the-best-right-wingers-in-europe/

  • Goona Gal

    If you bench mark Theo against the best in Europe, I think that is a better way of judging him. If you click down on the last two columns, you will find where Theo’s true weaknesses lay. Which is his defensive skills as well as key passing – but this is not necessarily crossing the ball.

  • @Goona Gal

    Isolation???

    They’re taken directly from last season’s official OPTA stats and are factored against almost all other ‘quality’ wingers in the league.

    I don’t have access to data for people like Robben, Muller and Sanchez, but I’d be highly doubtful that they have as low accuracy as Walcott does for crossing and passing.

    In truth I have no idea how the stats on the link you provided were worked out, or where the information came from, whereas the OPTA stats are undeniably correct and cannot be argued with.

    13% is 13%, and for crossing accuracy this is very poor overall.

    He loses possession, isn’t a good crosser, and has worse passing accuracy than his direct competition in this league (obviously other leagues stats aren’t directly comparable).

    That isn’t to say that I don’t rate him as I really like Theo, but the stats don’t lie – he isn’t a great winger. Just like Henry could do a job on the wing but was better upfront, the same applies to Theo…

  • Goona Gal

    @ Indybones – they are Opta too! The point is the table I linked to shows minutes on the pitch also, games played etc. Lennon was injured for most of last season and Nasri was benched, so for argument’s sake if a player, plays 2 games and makes 2 accurate crosses that’s 100% completion. The stat by itself does not tell the full story.

    In my earlier post I acknowledged Theo has weaknesses in his game and is far from irreplaceable. My point is you said he was wasted on the wings, but has a good assist rate and goal tally.

  • Goona Gal

    Sorry, last bit was ‘My point is you said he was wasted on the wings, but Theo has a good assist rate and goal tally, so that isn’t the case’.

  • bjtgooner

    @Indy_Bones

    The trouble with stastics is that they can be manipulated in many different ways.

    From watching most of Arsenal’s games last season it was obvious that Walcott’s crossing had improved greatly – even the AAA sewer rats have eased off about it – he put in some quality balls last year, quite a few of which were converted by RVP.

    The debate about his best position for now should be based on what the team needs – and for now it seems obvious we need his ability on the wings to get behind the opposition and get the crosses in. Don’t forget next season we will have Giroud up front – rated very good in the air.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Btj – That’s the point really. Stats aren’t my forte to be honest(I’ll leave that to Dogface & the refs), all I am saying is that for a player to of gotten 10 assists, which is 4th or 5th higest in the league, his crossing can’t be that bad. Also the bench mark should be against the best in Europe, not players like Jarvis and Downing, which the link I gave shows.

    Again, I am not saying Theo is the finished article, even the stats in the table I linked to showed that and therefore Theo really needs to think about his next move carefully. Right now the best thing he has going for him is ‘brand Theo’, which is very popular with youngsters. The thing is with that is Alex OC, who is quickly becoming a marketable personality along the same lines. He is also English and younger than him so he starts to lose leverage with this key USP.

  • I appreciate we all have differing opinions here, but I’m not quite sure how it can be suggested that the stats have been ‘manipulated’ in some way as to deliberately pour cold water on Theo.

    I don’t know what his official crossing accuracy was the season before last, or the season before that etc, but even if his crossing HAS improved (and I think you’re right saying it has), it still isn’t very good compared to the other players in the league who play on the wing.

    Theo was officially credited with 11 assists, which puts him joint 10th in the league (along with Charlie Adam and Ashley Young), but that doesn’t mean his crossing “Can’t have been that bad” just because of the amount. The reason I say this is because it’s all a numbers game, and I remember people taking the mick out of Andy Cole years ago at Man Utd as he seemed to need 4-5 chances to score, yet despite this scored 20+ goals in a number of seasons for them. If you’d have stuck him in a team that wouldn’t give him the repeated chances to shoot – how many do you think he’d have scored???

    If for example Theo attempted 8 crosses per game, his accuracy would suggest that under normal circumstances only 1 of these would go exactly where he wanted it to, if that then resulted in a goal, it’s an assist, but it completely ignores the fact that his other 7 attempts were wayward, and that’s my gripe.

    If he were in a side that doesn’t have as much possession as Arsenal do, then his profligacy from crossing would be under much harder scrutiny, as if you only get 2-3 chances a game to get a cross in and they all go astray, serious questions will start to be asked.

    This isn’t about whether or not Theo can play quality balls or whether or not he can play on the wing, as he obviously can, the problem is that he doesn’t do them often enough and can be very wasteful outside of the times when he does perform.

    All I really want is for him to be given a fair shout upfront (just like AW did with Henry) to prove what he can do there as I genuinely believe that he can use his greatest assets to their fullest in a strikers role, and someone more accurate can then play the balls in for him to run onto, or Giroud to handle aerially.

  • bjtgooner

    @Indy_Bones

    I think we shall have to agree to differ.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Indybones – I am sorry but I have explained in my previous how stats don’t tell the full story, nor why crossing the ball stats by themselves should even be used to judge whether Theo was effective on the wings. I will link to a site which has a full explaination of what I am saying regarding crossing the ball.

    The crossing stat may be poor but like the article shows, It’s not a big feature of Arsenal’s game, especially since the main beneficary was Chamakh who hardly played. I know I have seen with my own eyes that Arsenal players intentially play the ball behind into space? These passes don’t count with Opta. The point is that we keep possession in the final third and work the ball around to create space. Again I repeat, crossing stats on their own don’t tell the full story regarding Theo & the job he does on the flanks for Arsenal.

    http://www.eplindex.com/16597/a-cross-to-bear-liverpools-crossing-addiction-in-2011-12.html

  • Goona Gal

    @ Indybones, again I have disagree with you about Theo being the main striker this season. We have two new strikers in the squad and therefore think Theo for the time being should remain on the wings if he stays with us. He is not doing too badly there and I don’t see the point of having three players trying to adjust to the role upfront. Theo is more beneficial to the team at the moment staying out wide.

  • Goona Gal

    Oh, I forgot to say – I agree with Bjt,haha! We can of course agree to disagree.