If ever there has been a player to divide opinion among fans, journalists and legends, then look no further than beyond the borders of North London.
He sets an example of leading a quiet personal life in comparison to some of his England colleagues, but Theo Walcott has never quite evaded the media spotlight. After-all, he will always be known as the 17 year old who went to the World Cup without playing a single game in domestic top flight football.
More recently, his omission from the international team has certainly helped his career take a turn for the better. Lionel Messi even went on record and said "I thought it was a bad decision to leave Theo Walcott at home. I can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against. Barcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal he truly worried us"
Walcott came on as a second half sub to earn Arsenal a draw in the Champions League two seasons ago and manager Pep Guardiola was in awe of the Englishman’s talent pace by admitting, “You would need a pistol to stop him”.
Despite the high praises, England fans however are uninspired by the former Southampton player. His 3 goals in 19 starts is a far cry from Arsenal league record where he has 20 goals from 72 starts. And having playing some 16 hours less football than PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale, Walcott recorded more goals and assists than the Welshman last season.
His development has been closely observed by various figures in the game and the young Englishman has certainly received some very harsh and unfair criticism over the years. Yet, if there is ever a way to set an example of proving your doubters wrong, Walcott would be the ideal candidate having made improvements to his game with quality performances, most notably at Stamford Bridge this season.
There aren’t many left backs in the world better than former Gunner Ashley Cole. Yet, the Chelsea defender has struggled on many occasions when faced with the pace of Walcott. And his goal at the Shed End in the bridge would’ve even had Chris Waddle jump off his seat. The winger battled through 4 Chelsea players to unleash a blistering shot past Petr Cech as Arsenal took the points at the Bridge.
While the England manager Fabio Capello watched from the director’s stand, he may have been wondered why his playing style consistently fails to take advantage of Walcott’s ability. Why is it that a player producing excellent performances against the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea cannot do the same when faced with likes of Montenegro or Switzerland? Why is Arsene Wenger the only manager who benefits from the young Englishman’s pace and accurate finishing? Are England missing a trick in the way Capello deploys Walcott?
The answers may lie in the way Arsenal adopt their attacking style by utilising the wide men in the opposition half. There is always movement from the Arsenal’s midfielders off the ball. Gervinho, Van Persie and Walcott are constantly swapping roles in an attempt to confuse the defenders and create space.
Wenger allows his attackers to play with freedom in their movement and expression on the ball. His instruction to his creative players is to look for Walcott’s run after regaining possession inside their own half. Fabregas, Ramsey and Wilshere have on many occasions played the ball deep into the opposition half for the former Saints player to create opportunities.
Capello demands a style that is more a rigid in formation and strictly disciplined in attack with very few risks in passing. The result of this is a lack of creativity and monotonously predictable attacks by England. The team rely heavily on opposition making mistakes while the players are more vulnerable to being man marked and have little room for variation.
The England manager’s idea of Walcott running down the flank and crossing the ball for the centre forward is old fashioned. The full backs do not attack as much as they are used to for their clubs and only Rooney has the license to drift.
If Capello feels that playing a more free-form attacking role with his forwards would make his team vulnerable defensively, then perhaps he has neglected the improvements in Walcott’s defensive routine. Various teams, including the likes of Chelsea, Marseille and Sunderland have targeted Arsenal’s right side identifying former Charlton player Jenkinson as the weak link.
Analysing Walcott’s play on Guardian Chalkboards, the diagram on the left shows the wingers passing against Sunderland this season in comparison to his passes against Wolves two seasons ago. Walcott has attempted to track back more often this season to help the full back recently and has taken on more defensive responsibilities this season. His passes appear to be more direct and organised rather than short-horizontal in comparison to his performance two years go.
England should certainly adopt aspects of Arsenal’s attacking tactics when suitable, especially against teams likes Spain where they are likely to have reduced possession. Capello will be hoping midfielder Jack Wilshere will recover in time for the Euros. Wilshere’s understanding with Walcott at club level may well prove to be a catalyst for England’s success in the future.