Arguing is something that happens a lot in the realm of football.
Hell, having an opinion is the main part of being a devoted fan. There are so many divisive issues in football: Gerrard or Lampard, Ronaldo or Messi, United or City?
But there’s one thing that fans from all backgrounds and loyalties seem to agree on: When Theo Walcott is scoring, he’s a hero. When he isn’t, he’s one of the most picked upon players in the Premier League.
Walcott was underutilised the entire season at Arsenal, sidelined due to injury for 12 games but benched for 11, making only four starts for Arsene Wenger’s squad. For most of his nine-season career with the Gunners he has been known as a creator rather than a finisher, with his ability to score highly questioned.
He’s had peaks before, like when Arsenal first signed him as a 16-year-old boy wonder, and when he subsequently became the youngest player to ever be included on an England World Cup squad. But those peaks have been followed by lapses in form that last months, even years.
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After fading into anonymity following the 2006 World Cup, Walcott was thrust back into the limelight when he scored a hat trick for England against Croatia in 2008 as a substitute for David Beckham. But then: injuries and a spiral back into obscurity.
Walcott seemed to rise to the occasion again in 2012-13 after Robin van Persie’s departure from Arsenal, when he tallied 21 goals and 16 assists across all competitions. But it was another false alarm as no repeat standout performances followed.
That is until the Gunners’ Premier League finale against West Brom this year, when Walcott scored a first half hat-trick. The outing earned him another start in the FA Cup, where he netted the opening goal. And oh, the amount of times the word “hero” got thrown his way.
The roller coaster of a career that was just recounted is what makes fans, and Wenger, wary to lay any praise on Walcott. And that’s understandable. If you look at only the big impact moments, then yes, the striker’s performance colors various shades of grey. But overall, he’s actually much more effective.
This season, Walcott played just 24 percent of the minutes that Olivier Giroud played, yet scored 36 percent of the goals that Giroud scored. Even as a substitute, Walcott had a 22 percent shot conversation rate and five goals in 14 Premier League games. In other words, Walcott is more efficient in goals per minute, and is also a more accurate shooter.
Based on these numbers, Walcott is in fact the more consistent player of this season. And even if he isn’t, who cares? Walcott always shows up when it counts, whether it’s as a starter or coming off the bench.
There are plenty of other top players, past and present, who have been just as erratic yet are still remembered for their well-timed but intermittent achievements: Mario Balotelli, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Robin van Persie.
It seems that what has really been inconsistent is our ability to decide if Walcott is indeed a hero, or just a young player who manages to get lucky in big moments.
But frankly, if Walcott being inconsistent means he provides us with these occasional brilliant displays of football in high-pressure games, then I’m okay with that.