Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Boy Ain't Bad or How I Learnt To Love Theo Walcott

Anybody who decides to delve into the archives of this blog may find a brobdingnagian amount of abuse aimed at Theo Walcott, much of which I would probably stand by. When I used to write match reports between 2008 and 2010, Walcott didn't even manage to look good in a team containing Fabregas, Nasri, an on-song Arshavin and van Persie. In fact, let's not beat around the bush: he didn't just not look good, he was often absolutely terrible.

It's one of the reasons I find Twitter so trying currently. At least 20% of tweets seem to be people digging out old tweets from people and shouting "HYPOCRITE HYPOCRITE" like it is somehow a bad thing to be able to change your mind. At risk of stating the obvious, changing your mind tends to show reflection and that you're actually watching what is going on.

That rather large digression is intended to head off any idiots who respond to this post and say "but you used to say Walcott was rubbish". I did, I now think he's a wonderful footballer.

In fact, what drove me to write this post was people slagging Walcott off for what I felt was one mediocre performance against Sunderland.

A few things about Theo:

1) His post-match interviews are almost as exciting as watching grass grow.
2) His goals+assists stat clearly suggests he is a better player than he is.
3) He has an infuriating habit of missing one-on-ones which does not befit a player of his calibre.

But so what. If you want me to tell you that Walcott is a better winger than Angel di Maria or whoever because he scores more goals than that player I'm not going to. What I will say though is that he's better than almost anybody in his position in the Premier League: better than Aaron Lennon, better than Young or Valencia, better than Jesus Navas and better than Samir Nasri.

And he's improved enormously as a footballer. When Walcott used to be picked as an impact sub it was because his runs in behind were poor, and so he was only any use with the ball played into his feet. This meant he needed defences to be tired in order to be effective. Now, his runs off the ball are exceptionally good, so much so that together with his pace he often gets one-on-one with goalkeepers. Does he miss more chances than perhaps he should? Yes, absolutely, but his return is still very good and he has scored both big goals and goals in big games.

Plus, just because he missed some chances against Sunderland, that doesn't mean he's not getting better all the time. It's been noticeable so far this season that his first touch is enormously improved, and that can only be down to hard work in training. With Ozil and Cazorla ready to spot Theo's runs, this could be a brilliant season for Walcott, with 20 Premier League goals an attainable goal.

That's doable partly because he's a player who helps to turn the screw against poor teams. For some reason, this is viewed as a bad thing by many people but scoring two or three goals against a bad team is a good way to get the game over early and avoid the players over-exerting themselves. There's a reasonable argument that what undermined Arsenal's title chase in spring 2011 was that almost every game was close in the last ten minutes, meaning the players ended up more and more tired. If players score goals, I am happy. To be particularly reductive, goals are good.

There are still issues with Walcott: he doesn't offer as much protection for his full-back as he should do and his crossing still isn't that great, but the reality is it's very hard to view his contribution as anything other than positive.

I'm happy to hold my hands up: I was wrong about Theo.

Keep the faith.

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