Premier League

A Return Home Would Be Right Move For Walcott

 • by Thomas McIlroy
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Returns to your first love can always be risky and it’s no different in football.

Wayne Rooney’s renaissance at Everton was undoubtedly unexpected but, for every success like the former England captain, there are stories like Joe Cole, who left West Ham United after a second spell at Upton Park that lasted just 18 months.

Yet, it’s a risk many are willing to take and the latest club to go in for an ex-player is Southampton.

According to Sky Sports, the Saints are now the favourites to sign Theo Walcott should he depart Arsenal during the January transfer window.

He left St Mary’s as a 16-year-old in 2006, but remains a popular figure at Southampton and only last year spoke of his love for his former side.

Now 28, he still has a soft spot for Saints, saying: “Southampton will always be in my heart – I have some great memories [from my time there].”

With Mauricio Pellegrino’s side sitting 17th in the Premier League with just 21 goals in 22 games, a fresh face in attack is much needed on the South Coast.

While he has flirted with playing up front at the Emirates Stadium, Walcott is predominantly a winger and we’ve had a look at how he compares to Saints’ options there.

Walcott vs Southampton’s wingers

In the 4-2-3-1 favoured by Pellegrino this season, his preferred wingers have been two from Dušan Tadić, Nathan Redmond and Sofiane Boufal.

So how does Walcott fare against those three? Due to his lack of game time in the Premier League this season – just five substitute appearances totalling 50 minutes – we’ve used the Arsenal man’s 2016/17 numbers instead of this season’s.

Walcott vs Southampton wingers

If the Saints want a goal threat from the wide Walcott is the ideal man, boasting the most goals per 90 (0.47) and expected goals (0.41) of the quartet. But those numbers are enhanced by playing in a far more free-scoring side than Southampton.

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The 28-year-old does favour comparably in terms of shooting accuracy compared to Southampton’s current options for the wing though, with 58 per cent of his efforts on target. None of Tadič (47 per cent), Boufal (43 per cent) or Redmond (41 per cent) reach over 50 per cent.

However, the three of them are much more creative than Walcott, averaging more than one chance created per game. Redmond leads the way with 2.03 per 90 minutes, followed by Tadić’s 1.95 and Boufal’s 1.66.

At 0.61, Walcott trails by some distance.

He does make more dribbles per 90 (1.92) than Tadic (1.71) and Redmond (1.83), but comes nowhere near Boufal’s 4.25.

In terms of passing, he’s far less involved than Pellegrino expects from his wingers – making just 25.13 passes per 90.

That’s more than 12 fewer than the current Southampton crop, with Tadić making the least with 37.41 and Boufal the most on 40.1.

Walcott’s passing accuracy of 75 per cent also trails Saints’ existing options.

But his goalscoring prowess means he could be earmarked for a striking role instead, especially given Saints’ woes at finding the back of the net this season.

Shane Long may have finally scored, but a striker going 325 games without a goal can easily be improved upon.

Manolo Gabbiadini’s return of just three is similarly disappointing, and Walcott could give Pellegrino some more options for the striking role in his 4-2-3-1, putting pressure on the Italian, Long, and Charlie Austin.

While his stats may not be outstanding, bringing in a big name like Walcott would surely surely lift the mood at St Mary’s and, in a relegation battle, that could be crucial come the end of the season – he’s not the sort of player that would see himself going to a club heading for the Championship.

What’s more, for Walcott, a move back to where his heart is could see him rediscover something close to the form that once made him the most exciting teenager in England.

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