We take a look at a player who has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool and who manager Brendan Rodgers is an admirer of. Walcott has only 6 months remaining on his current contract at Arsenal.
What would you say are the weakest areas of this current Liverpool team? If you think upfront and on the wings you wouldn’t find too many people disagreeing with you. Do you ever find yourself looking on in envy not necessarily at the quality of other team’s options upfront and on the wings but at the fact that other teams actually have options upfront and on the wings? Some teams even have players who can play both on the wings and upfront, imagine the luxury. So today we take a look at Theo Walcott who has been providing options both upfront and on the wings for his teams since the age of 16.
Theo James Walcott was born in Stanmore, London on the 16th March 1989. He grew up as a Liverpool supporter from an early age, following in the footsteps of his father. His boyhood hero was the legendary Thierry Henry who (however correctly or incorrectly) Walcott has drawn many comparisons with.
Walcott took up playing football properly at the age of ten and joined AFC Newbury. He would often wear his Liverpool kit to training but it was during games whilst wearing the colours of AFC Newbury that Walcott really shone. He scored 100 goals in 35 games for the club at under 11’s level a feat that didn’t go unnoticed by scouts. After impressing scouts from Swindon Town he was offered a contract to join Swindon Town’s centre of excellence. It soon became clear however that Walcott’s talents were far beyond the level of Swindon, as evidenced by the fact that Walcott soon left the club within 6months to join Southampton, whilst rejecting an offer from Chelsea.
Walcott’s time at Southampton saw him break numerous records as his stock and reputation continued to quickly grow. Whilst at Southampton Walcott became the youngest ever player to play for Southampton reserves in his first season at the age of just 15. He also helped to take the Southampton youth team to the FA youth cup final which unfortunately for Walcott Southampton lost to Ipswich Town. On top of this he was called up by England for the first time at any level and went on to score 5 goals in 11 appearances for England under 17’s that season.
The following season young Walcott really put himself on the map, he became Southampton’s youngest ever player when he was brought on as a substitute against Wolves at the age of just 16. A couple of months later Walcott became a first team regular when he became the youngest player to ever start a game for Southampton and in the same match he became the youngest ever goal scorer for Southampton by scoring Southampton’s only goal in a 2-1 loss to Leeds. Walcott went on to make 23 appearances that season scoring 5 goals and getting 2 assists in all competitions a very impressive set of figures for a 16 year old.
After impressive performances for Southampton whilst at such a young age it became inevitable that big teams would be after Walcott’s services and that was indeed the case. Walcott once again rejected Chelsea and signed for Arsenal on the 20th January 2006 in a deal worth up to £12million, the deal made Walcott one of the most expensive teenage signings ever in English football which was testament to his talent, potential and the hype surrounding him.
Since his big move to Arsenal it’s fair to say Walcott has blown hot and cold and hasn’t fully been able to realise the promise and talent which he showed at such a young age. However that’s not to say he hasn’t had his moments or that he hasn’t been an effective player because he has. Who can ever forget that goal he scored against us in The Champions League for example? Cutting through the whole of our team with such an explosive energy you would have been forgiven for thinking Walcott had obtained super-powers. That moment hasn’t been the only time Walcott has shown how effective he can be in an Arsenal shirt either with a League Cup final goal to his name against Chelsea, An FA Cup semi-final goal against Chelsea and a goal against Barcelona in a 2-2 draw. On top of this a total of 96 goals and assists (53 goals and 43 assists) in 238 games for Arsenal is an efficient return especially considering his problems with injuries, his inconsistency with performances and that most of his time has been spent on the right wing.
It’s easy to forget that Walcott is still a very young player (at the age of 23) with how long he has been around. It’s rare to find players who are so experienced at such a young age but with potential to improve even further and the potential to be around for another ten years. What is even rarer is finding players like this who are in the final 6 months of their contract who may be available for a bit of a cut down price. Walcott’s desire to play up front in a central role for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger’s inability to guarantee Walcott playing time in that role have led to the on-going contract saga surrounding Walcott with Arsenal desperate for Walcott to stay. Noting Brendan Rodgers recent comments about wanting to play Suarez out on the left with a mobile centre forward through the middle, along with the fact Walcott is a childhood supporter of the club, there is surely at the very least a slight possibility of signing Walcott if Rodgers wants him?
What is it about Walcott which makes everyone at Arsenal desperate for him to commit to the club? He’s no Usain Bolt but he is the closest anyone would be able to get to the sprinter from the English game and that pace alone makes him a valuable asset. Just play the ball into space for Walcott to run on to and there’s little chance of catching him especially with a ball played in behind the defence. Similarly play the ball into space out wide for Walcott to run on to and the defence will instantly become stretched.
No one likes to defend against a player with pace especially against a player with pace like Walcott, he not only has the pace and acceleration to easily run past most defenders but he also possesses great balance, agility and dribbling skills which allows him to quickly change direction even whilst running flat out, making him an absolute nightmare to defend against, defenders either have to just let him go past or foul him as he goes past.
Pep Guardiola said about Walcott after Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Barcelona in which Walcott scored “you would need a pistol to stop him”. Lionel Messi also described him as “one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against”.
It’s not just down to lighting quick pace which makes Walcott dangerous and effective, his finishing ability especially when put through on goal in a one-on-one situation with the keeper is quite simply clinical. Walcott possesses a very cool, calm and composed finish, he rarely rushes his shot or gets a rush of blood to his head when one-on-one with the keeper he generally just picks his spot and looks to calmly place it into the back of the net.
Walcott is excellent at getting himself in those goal scoring and one-on-one situations this is all down to his movement off the ball. He is clever at spotting the gaps to run into in behind the defence both when running from deep or when making a run off the last defender. He is quick to spot holes in the defence that he can exploit and of course he has the pace and agility to exploit those gaps before the defence has a chance to tighten up.
As a player who is best when running into space when Walcott plays against teams who defend deep with men behind the ball Walcott’s game is severely affected. He often struggles to contribute in such games due to the lack of space for him to run into and due to the type of player that he is. He doesn’t have the technical ability of someone like Santi Cazorla to enable him to get on the ball and do something with it in tight congested areas. To be fair to Walcott however he has rarely played upfront in such circumstances so it’s unclear if he can be effective upfront against teams who defend deep and with men behind the ball.
Walcott can be a very erratic player with erratic form to match. He has struggled to put together a sustained period of good performances with his most consistent form ever for Arsenal being currently this season. Walcott can go from being absolutely unplayable in one game to in the next game being unable to play even the simplest passes. His inconsistency may suggest that he currently lacks the all round game required to play well in a long run of matches due to him needing specific game situations for him to exploit his main attribute of pace.
Walcott has had numerous injuries down the years as the norm seems to be for a lot players who rely on their pace. Is it feasible to fork out high wages for a player who potentially could miss a lot of the season with injuries? Then of course there is the risk of him becoming like Torres and Owen burnt out by the age of 27 from a mixture of so many games from a young age and numerous injuries. If his injuries affect his pace will he be able to adapt to that in a way that Torres and Owen haven’t?
In the past Walcott has been accused of being a bit of a headless chicken, able to get into good positions but failing to look up, picking the wrong pass, taking the wrong option and delivering a poor final ball when in good positions. 11 goals and 8 assists already this season however suggests he has improved on this side of his game.
So what can Walcott offer LFC? Most importantly he would offer us an option both upfront and on the wings and he would be an upgrade on any other player we have in all those positions except for Suarez. He would offer us blistering pace and direct running which we could use to exploit teams on the counter attack especially away from home. On top of his game he would offer us goals and assists especially when put through behind a defence and would surely help in making our team more clinical. Walcott would offer us experience in the attacking positions and would all round improve on what we have. Walcott will also offer us an option that we haven’t had since the days of Torres, he is someone who could play on the shoulder of the last defender for players like Gerrard and Suarez to thread defence splitting through balls to. I can’t remember the last time we scored from a one-on-one with the keeper or even the last time a player was put through one-on-one with the keeper, Walcott would offer us this option.
At the age of 23 Walcott is a player who could potentially offer us many years of great service, especially if he continues to develop his all round game.