Monday, August 8, 2022

How This Forgotten Arsenal Star Has Turned It Around This Season Under Wenger’s Tutelage

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Arka Tarun Mukherjee
Arsenal fan and football expert, Arka Tarun Mukherjee actually used to play cricket at semi pro level. An ardent student of football tactics, ATM is very passionate about the tactical aspects of the game and has a dream of being a football manager in the future.

There have been a lot of change evident in the Arsenal team this season and the inclusion of quality players in key positions, renewed belief, good game management are some of those. While after a run of six consecutive wins in the Premier League, Arsenal sit level on points with holders of the top spot Manchester City, there has been a huge change evident in the personal form of an individual Gunner which has coincided with the team’s impressive run so far.

Theo James Walcott, who joined Arsenal in the year 2006, is finally delivering the goods on the pitch once again since 2012/13 when he scored 14 goals and assisted 10 in the league.

After having a wonderful season in 2012/13, the attacker suffered not one but two injury nightmares the next season, an abdominal injury, in late August of 2013, which forced him to have surgery and be sidelined for two months followed by an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury in January, which saw him miss not only the rest of the season but also the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

That season, Theo could only make 13 appearances in the Premiership with 9 starts and still he managed to score 5 goals and provide 4 assists. Having returned after 10 months since his ACL injury, Walcott could play only 14 games in the league, 10 of them as a substitute and finished with 5 goals and no assists.

Last season, he got opportunities appearing in the Premier League for 28 times, 15 of them as a starter but disappointed repeatedly with his performances with many fans calling for him to be sold in the transfer window even after the forward managed to sign a new contract with £140,000 per week wages after prolonged negotiations.

Arsène Wenger always kept his faith on the 27-year-old Englishman and kept backing him even under immense criticism from the fans and the critics. Thankfully, this season, after Walcott’s own comments, where he remarked, “Where did my change in mindset come from? It probably was from myself. I found it difficult last year, coming towards the end of the season I didn’t get opportunities but I was still working hard. It is probably from then, I spoke to many people and it maybe woke up something in my system. I am completely different. I just want to be better and better, people have had so much faith in me and you never give up. I tend to think I need to repay people, but I also think I need to do it for myself now. Maybe in the past I was thinking about others and not myself.” Tt seems like finally the player with great potential has woke up from a state of ‘cryo sleep’.

With 5 goals from his first 8 games in the Premier League, something which he managed in the whole of last season, and two assists to add to that, the answer to the question of how and what has changed with the player is evident both mentally as well as tactically.

While his movement is now not restricted to only in the right hand channel even while playing as the right winger, the flexibility of executing a dynamic positional swap has been very impressive which has brought excellent results for the team owing to superior decision making which has in turn improved the passing as well. The following pics show how Walcott has frequently changed his positions to cause the opposition problems.

Walcot passes recvd Vs Burnley
Theo Walcott all passes received Vs Burnley (Pic: Four Four Two)
Walcott passes recvd Vs Swansea
Theo Walcott all passes received Vs Swansea City (Pic: Four Four Two)

After faring well in all the games from the start of the season, except against Southampton, Walcott has now showcased the defensive discipline and work rate in the defensive phase consistently, dropping deep and helping out his right-back Hector Bellerin. Arsenal, as a result, have faced the fewest attacks from the oppositions left flank in comparison as a result. The following pic gives us a glimpse of his diligent defensive work as he dropped deep to cover for his teammates.

Ball recoveries Vs Swansea
Ball recoveries By Theo Walcott Vs Swansea City (Pic: Four Four Two)

While there can be no denying the fact that there has been a greater tactical provision and quality provided by the players in the team presently, Arsenal are now reaping the rewards of a fully fit and fully aware Theo Walcott who knows what he has to do even when things are not working out according to plan.

The increased intelligence owing to his overall gameplay and the acceptance of the fact that he can’t play only as a lone forward or a striker upfront has done wonders. To be fair, with Walcott a manager gets a unique mix of an attacker who has some of the attributes of a great winger and an intelligent forward and lacks those of an industrious winger and a powerful striker.

Till now, he has improved his industry down the wings to improve and utilising his instincts of a striker has proven extremely effective when the team has suffered previously without the presence of Giroud in situations during the matches.

For a decade, Theo Walcott has been a player who has been spectacular in patches and infuriating in large portions. The several injuries worsened the situations not allowing him to be in the rhythm for long. Arsène Wenger has rightly kept faith in the kid he bought when he was 17, standing beside him when no one did and finally to the sheer delight of some like myself who never doubted his quality but got disappointed with his lack of consistency and intelligence in some parts, Walcott is up and running and he has found his rhythm.

This season will thus showcase the best of the attacker as it looks like finally, he is on his way to justify his talent and prove his manager, his fans and most importantly his own self right.

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