Sunday, 27 November 2011

Walcott provides lonely shining light in bore draw with Fulham

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Theo Walcott's performance against Fulham.

I wrote after Theo Walcott’s superb performance against Swansea City near the start of the season that Walcott had all the makings to be an excellent player, but in order to fulfil that potential, he had to find consistency. Since then, the Arsenal and England winger has grabbed himself four assists and a goal – including vital assists for equalising goals against Norwich, and now Fulham.

Of course goals and assists are all very well and good, but if they’re too sporadic, such stats can be very misleading. So before I look at his performance against Fulham, let’s examine Walcott’s (club) performances since the end of October, when Arsenal beat Chelsea 5-3 at Stamford Bridge with the help of a goal from Walcott.

Firstly, if statistical ratings are the way to go, Walcott has averaged a WhoScored rating of 7.2 in the six games since (and including) the Chelsea win, while his one goal and two of his assists previously mentioned have also come in this period*.

In the first game, against Chelsea and up against Arsenal boo-boy Ashley Cole, Walcott’s fine performance saw him make three key passes, take one shot (which was on target), complete three dribble attempts and win two fouls*. A slightly less glamorous, but still impressive, performance against Marseille included two shots (both on target) from Walcott, as well as one key pass and one successful dribble attempt*.

Then last weekend, Walcott caused all sorts of trouble for newly-promoted Norwich – putting in a fine winger’s performance with four shots (two on target), four key passes, two dribbles, an assist and a shot which cracked off the outside of the post*. Finally, as Arsenal (unconvincingly) won their Champions League group with a 2-1 win over Dortmund, Walcott’s assured and energetic performance is barely demonstrated by stats; managing just one shot and one successful dribble, but drawing three fouls (joint-most in the Arsenal team)*.

At long last, we get onto Fulham. The away side’s superb defensive performance mainly involved closing down the space Arsenal had in the middle of the pitch, setting up with a very narrow and deep defensive line with hard-working midfielders who dropped back and forced the ball wide. As a result, Walcott and Andrei Arshavin tended to see a lot of the ball, but did vastly different things with it and had vastly differing performances.

While Arshavin naturally drifted inside into the No. 10 position (making Fulham’s zonal-marking job even easier), Walcott showed intelligence and stayed wide, not making the same runs in behind Robin van Persie that we usually see. Instead of fulfilling the role of what seems to have become a “wide-poacher”, finishing off moves by utilising pace and finishing ability, Walcott acted more as a winger; attempting eight crosses (though only one – his assist – was successful) and doing well to link up play and keep possession in the channels with 27 successful passes, and just one misplaced one*.

 by Guardian Chalkboards

Walcott gave ex-Liverpool man John Arne-Riise a torrid time throughout the game, and was perhaps a little unlucky not to score himself, despite taking three shots (two of which hit the target) but finding Schwarzer in top form in the Fulham net*.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, and Walcott, two Arsenal players in particular were crucial to Fulham earning a (well-deserved) point. As briefly mentioned before, Arshavin was particularly poor – making just one key pass (to Walcott’s three) and taking one shot in 76 minutes (the same amount Gervinho managed in 14 minutes). By drifting inside, Arshavin limited the options Arsenal’s midfielders had in wide positions and exposed his left-back, AndrĂ© Santos for much of the game.

The other player who hindered The Gunners was Johan Djourou. Through no fault of his own, the make-shift right back limited Arsenal’s options going forward – naturally tending to stay in his own half (he attempted just one cross*) and isolating Theo Walcott against Clint Dempsey and Riise on Arsenal’s right wing.

Walcott worked hard, however, and didn’t allow Djourou to be isolated at the back – putting in a solid defensive shift with one important tackle to prevent a break and two possession turnovers*, as well as making 30% of his passes in Arsenal’s half**.

Clearly, Walcott’s performance against Fulham was very impressive, but what’s more important to take away from the game is his clear improvement as a winger, not just a player. The loss of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas means Arsenal have less inventiveness going forward – Theo Walcott’s development and recent form, however, has allowed Wenger to somewhat alter The Gunners’ style of play. Walcott may still want to play up front in the long-term, but his form on the wing (and Van Persie’s form as a lone striker), mean he may have to wait a while.

*OPTA statistics courtesy of
**Statistics taken from Guardian Chalkboards online.

Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

Video produced by CWDailyGoonerCulann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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