Since his arrival to Arsenal a decade ago, Theo Walcott has been somewhat of a polarizing figure. While once thought as a possible successor to club legend Thierry Henry, the speedy England international hasn’t exactly filled the Frenchman’s shoes. The hype surrounding his £9.1 million move (a fee that was high at the time, trust me) from Southampton as a 16-year-old was immense and it surely added even more pressure for the teenage phenom to perform at high level.
Not all has been negative in Walcott’s Arsenal career, however. His mazy run and assist to Emmanuel Adebayor against Liverpool in the 2007/08 Champions League quarterfinals was truly brilliant. The forward also produced a masterclass hat-trick against Newcastle in 2012, and his taunting “2-0” gesture to rival Spurs fans while being stretchered off of the pitch during an FA Cup match in 2014 will always be fondly remembered by Gunner fans around the world.
Nevertheless, Walcott has received plenty of flak over the last couple of seasons due to his erratic play. Following his supposed breakout 2012/13 season in which he netted 21 total goals, the Englishman only managed to score 22 goals over the next three seasons combined. Although Walcott was admittedly battling injuries during this stretch, the speedster seemed lackluster when he was healthy and on the pitch.
It was during that 2012/13 campaign in which Walcott made it clear that he wished to play as a center forward, rather than out wide. He started well in the relatively new position, netting two separate hat-tricks within a two-month span. However, Walcott’s goal output slowed following that season, as aforementioned. After a few seasons wanting the center forward spot in the lineup, Walcott announced this summer that he wished to go back out on the wing for the club.
While Walcott’s numbers are similar at the two positions, he is better served playing on the wing for a few reasons. First of all, the now 27-year-old still remains to be one of the quickest players in all of Europe, and he can utilize this speed a little better in a wider position. Secondly, the focal point doesn’t have to be forced on to his shoulders. A player like Olivier GIroud, who is 6’4”, can be deployed in the center forward position in matches in which the Gunners will (or should) possess much of the ball (e.g., lower level teams) and use his outstanding ability in the air much better than Walcott.
Finally, with Walcott out on the wing, Alexis Sanchez can be used as a center forward as well (like he has been used lately). Although Alexis is smaller than Walcott, the Chile international is certainly the better overall player and can easily handle the workload of being the pinpoint of Arsenal’s attack.
Mixed with Walcott’s switch back to the wing, the reason for his standout start to the season is attributed to his hustle and defensive contribution. The speedster is averaging an astounding 1.67 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season, more than triple what he averaged last season.
Between the goals, assists, tackles, and his passing numbers, Walcott has turned into a well-rounded player during the current campaign. Once known for just his speed, he is now impressing at all parts of his game. In fact, the current longest-serving Arsenal man is playing better than he ever has in his entire career.
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