Theo Walcott has struggled for game time at Arsenal this season. So far he has played just 47 minutes of Premier League action, meaning he may need to move on to maximise his quality at this stage in his career.
The 28-year-old will need regular football if he is to force his way into England’s World Cup squad next summer. And recently he has been linked with a January move in order to fulfil that ambition.
“He works hard to come back – he had a sickness a few weeks ago – and after I didn’t change the squad,” said Wenger when asked about the forward’s situation. “In training he looks sharp and he will show that.” Asked if he would keep Walcott in January, Wenger simply replied: “yes”.
The Frenchman may want to keep him on board, but there’s no way the 28-year-old will be comfortable with his limited role in the team.
Crystal Palace, Everton, Southampton and West Ham United are the four clubs purportedly interested in signing Walcott. Here we assess which of these teams would suit the forward best and give him the greatest chance of kick-starting his career.
WHAT EACH MOVE WOULD MEAN
Palace would represent the greatest career risk for Walcott, struggling as they are in the Premier League relegation zone with just eight goals in 15 games. They missed Wilfried Zaha in his absence due to injury, and the pace he brings has been key to their recent revival.
Walcott would likely compete with Andros Townsend for the role on the opposite flank to the Ivorian in a 4-2-3-1 were he to make the move to Selhurst Park. Although, he could even play up beside Zaha in the 4-4-2 Roy Hodgson tried in Christian Benteke’s absence.
Everton have been desperately short on pace since their summer sale of Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United. They now have a proliferation of technical No.10s but few one-on-one specialists in the final third.
Walcott, theoretically, would help to help to solve this issue, and would give Sam Allardyce another attacking option in January.
If the Arsenal man wants to return to the place where his career began, Southampton, he should be prepared for a serious challenge for first-team action. The Saints already have creativity and incisiveness thanks to Dusan Tadić and Nathan Redmond.
Similar competition would await Walcott at West Ham, who spent big in the summer to reinforce their attack, bringing in Javier Hernández and Marko Arnautovic.
However, with the Hammers also struggling this term, David Moyes would welcome the battle for places.
HOW WALCOTT COMPARES TO HIS POTENTIAL RIVALS
As Walcott has only played 47 minutes in the Premier League this season, it is necessary to look at last season’s statistics as an indicator of how he compares to the players he will be competing against for game time should he leave Arsenal for one of the aforementioned clubs.
The players in question would likely be: Townsend (Crystal Palace), Ramírez (Everton), Tadić (Southampton), Michail Antonio (West Ham).
Offensively, he is better than many of his potential rivals. Only Everton’s SandroRamírez scored more than his ten league goals in 2016/17 – and he has struggled to make an impact at his new club.
Meanwhile, Antonio was the only one to better Walcott for both shots per game – 2.7 to 2.2 – and average dribbles completed – 2.6 to 1.5.
In possession, however, the Arsenal man was not up to the standard of many of his peers. Of the five players considered here, he made the least key passes per game, while his average passes and pass success percentage were both significantly worse than those of Ramírez and Tadić.
Walcott was one of the better defensive contributors though – only Townsend made more than his 1.3 tackles per game, and only the Palace winger and Antonio averaged more than his 0.5 interceptions.
On the basis of the figures available, the 28-year-old would not be guaranteed to start at any of the clubs linked with his signature.
However, given his better shots, goals and passing tallies, he would stand a good chance of displacing Townsend at Crystal Palace.