Arsenal

The Case For Theo

Theo Walcott’s omission from the England squad has certainly shocked a few critics in the last 24 hours. The Arsenal winger was one of only two men to play in each World Cup warm-up game. The other man was Wayne Rooney so there appeared to be a fair amount of certainty that the winger would be part of Fabio Capello’s final 23 man squad.

Yet, despite the fact Walcott became a permanent entity of the World Cup qualifying team – subject to injury, the 21-year-old’s inability to cogitate just as quick as his limbs moved has cost him severely.

In the game against Mexico, the winger once again exhibited all the frustrating hallmarks of his increasingly sterile career. He was at times selfish, consistently and woefully inaccurate, tactically and positionally naïve, and made numerous futile attempts to cut-inside against a mobile right-footed left-back in spite of Capello’s instructions – vexing decisions which has led Chris ‘The Mullet’ Waddle to once again reiterate his exasperation with the former Southampton youngster.

Against Japan he was predictable and was blunted with incredible ease by a Japanese defence that had conceded three goals against Serbia and twice against South Korea. England themselves, remember, had to rely on the generosity of two Japanese defenders for their win.

Many Walcott apologists have already cited the wingers’ contribution to the game against Croatia as evidence for the player’s quality; as though that game alone should guarantee his presence on the plane to South Africa. His performance in Zagreb, however, is just as much down to Mr Capello’s ingenuity than anything else.

In that game, Capello successfully exploited the vulnerability of Slaven Bilic’s Croatian formation. Bilic’s system, which had transformed the side from a traditional Croatian 3-5-2 into a 4-3-1-2, required his full-back, Danjiel Pranjic – who often plays in midfield for his club Bayern Munich, to support and overlap the left midfielder Ivan Rakitic to offer width to the attack – a role similar to the one taken up by Ashley Cole when Chelsea employ the diamond midfield. In response to Pranjic’s attacking role, Capello implored his Arsenal winger to remain as high up the pitch as possible. The space gifted to Walcott in Pranjic’s absence, combined with the wingers searing pace, inevitably made Croatia vulnerable to the counter-attack. The history books will tell you the rest. Thus, Theo’s epitomic performance was nothing more than a tactical mismatch. And his fluke hat-trick in Zagreb still remains his only international goals for the senior side.

With that misleading performance healthily debunked, the rest of the arguments for Walcott’s inclusion simply fall to the ground.

His blistering pace remains, ostensibly, the only real argument in favour of the Arsenal youngster, but that attribute is only worthwhile if you can retain the ball at your feet for longer than an epileptic mule. Theo has completed only 34% of his attempted dribbles for his club this season, according to Opta. This is the second lowest rate in his club (William Gallas is the lowest with 33%). It’s also the second lowest rate out of Capello’s wing options for the plane journey south; Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steven Gerrard, Aaron Lennon, Adam Johnson and Joe Cole all have a better success rate. Only James Milner has less on 33%.

In the end, although Capello’s bold decision will have surprised more than a few critics, the statistics, the context of his limited successes, and, above-all, his performances suggest that a wise and correct decision was taken by the stern Italian. Now Theo has got all summer to unlock his potential. Good luck with that.

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