The Short Corner: Walcott as a defensive player

AFCB’s tactics guru Andrew Enloe examines how Theo Walcott helps the Arsenal defence…

Saturday’s match against Blackburn was the first real test of the season; nobody is really expected to win at Anfield, and last week’s match against Blackpool was only going to finish one way.  Blackburn have a formidable home record, and winning the match would go a long way to showing how the season would go.

What we got was a tough, gritty, and resilient performance with a good deal of flair.  It was a clash between the best passing team in the division and the worst.  Overall very pleasing.

Koscielny, Vermaelen, and Almunia were superb in dealing with Blackburn’s high balls lofted into the box and with Pedersen’s long throws.  Of the 22 times Sam Allardyce has come up against Arsenal, his teams have only lost 9 of those matches.  When you think about that it’s pretty remarkable.

But what really stuck out to me was how Walcott can be used a defensive weapon.

In the past he has been most influential as a substitute.  He’s been used to great effect against Liverpool and Barcelona.  He has always been extremely fast, and quite simply scares the pants off of defenders, even if the final pass isn’t exactly spot-on all the time.  Of course now it looks like he’s gaining in confidence and that he’s perhaps turned a corner, to use a rather worn-out phrase.

The Blackburn game showed just how much the presence of a pacey player like Walcott can affect the way a team attacks throughout the whole game.

Quite simply, Blackburn tried their best to keep from giving up the ball to Walcott.  Take a look at this passing graph comparing Michel Salgado (who actually dealt with Arshavin pretty well) and Gaël Givet, who had a horrible time against Walcott:

Blackburn seemed uncomfortable with the prospect of losing the ball when Walcott was in the general vicinity.  Of course Arshavin isn’t the most diligent of defenders, but Walcott is no Maldini either.  In the past the mere idea of Walcott running at you was as frightening as the real thing.  Now it seems the young winger is learning to assert that influence over the course of a full match.

The danger of Walcott takes a bit of the heat off of Sagna and allows him to bomb forward, as he did on Arsenal’s second goal.  Walcott made a run to the inside to free up a huge amount of space on the right flank for Sagna to run into.  Those who say he doesn’t have a “football brain” (whatever that is) clearly haven’t watched his movement enough.

If Walcott can maintain anything close to the form he’s shown in the past two matches, it will mean that Arsenal can dictate the way their opponents play to greater effect than they have in the past.

The real test is how he does against a player like Ashley Cole or Patrice Evra.

Short Corners

  • When Thomas Vermaelen botched up his little lay-off and Kalinic had a sight at goal it was the first pass the Belgian had misplaced this season.  That is absolutely remarkable, and it shows just how much concentration Arsenal’s style demands.
  • Abou Diaby had a better pass completion rate in this match than both Fabregas and Song.  He also won 8 of his 11 attempted tackles.  I’m still of the opinion that he takes too long on the ball, but on this form he will certainly make himself first choice in the more physical matches.


Have your say on The Short Corner by leaving a comment.



  1. Harry – Hi Jose its Harry

    Jose –  Hello Mr Redknapp how can I help you

    Harry – Well Jose I don’t know if you know but the transfer window closes here in England in 5 mins and I need to sign a player, have you got any for sale

    Jose – Ah Harry I am the special one and I might be able to help you out

    Harry – Great Jose who have you got?

    Jose – I have Rafael Van Der Vaart for sale Harry, would you like to buy him?

    Harry – Oh I don’t know much about him, haven’t you got any players I have previously managed for sale?

    Jose – Only Diarra but you already have signed one ex gooner this summer

    Harry – Oh yeah good point, ok tell me more about VDV

    Jose – Well he is Dutch and played in the World Cup Final

    Harry – OOOHH World Cup Final, ok I will take him because we only have 3 mins left before the window shuts, can you put him on the phone?

    Jose – Not so fast Harry let’s talk money, I want £20mil

    Harry – No chance make it £10mil

    Jose – Ah Harry I heard you were a bit of a wheeler dealer


  2. Walcott will fancy his chances against those 2 tough foes-Ashley and Evra. If he avoids hugging the touchline and seeks to drag those 2 inside, he’ll take them out.Let’s hope the Refs don’t allow them (especially Evra) get away for ‘murder’ thru out the match. Then for Diaby, I’ve said it before and will say it again– we need a ‘Diaby effect’ in that midfield to do well especially in the big matches.He plays better, we do better.But if can just help Song in shielding the Back Four and then curb those runs forward and holding onto the ball for too long,we’ll see his influence grow from match to match.I expect big things of him this season.

  3. Nice OldGoon. Nice.

    ‘Arry has for years tried to cultivate this image of being a lovable Cockney wide boy or something. He’s been tremendously lucky; he’s inherited a very talented squad, he has all the money in the world, and he’s managed to finagle himself out of some man-management problems of his own doing (I’m thinking about players like Gareth Bale and Pavlyuchenko).

    And then he decided to open his big fat mouth and say that tactics aren’t important in football. And then his team was crushed by Young Boys. Ouch.

    I almost feel sorry for the guy. He doesn’t want to be seen as a wheeler-dealer and he doesn’t want to be seen as a manager who thinks about foreign concepts like tactics or formations. Poor fella.

  4. Haha – Jealous twats. Whilst wheeler dealer Harry was getting a world cup finalist on the cheap, your manager was….kissing flapianiski’s butt cheeks?

  5. lovely response Daniel Brooks. Although VDV is a top technical player and will be great for ‘them’ if they sign him. to say harry had anything to do with it is ludicrous, he hardly knows people that play away from these shores. Levy does there business, even when at pompey he didnt know what he was doing(apart from bankrupting the club with the help of p storrie).

    Spurs were never a bottom half team whn he took over, I cpuld have got them in the top half with the players they have.they were top 8 at worst and got lucky coz Santini was really that bad.

    I hear jamie redknapp saying huddlestone is englands xabi alonso, is it ok for kids to lick there dads arse…?

  6. Interesting points about theo.
    Can I just say about diaby, it seems he was rushed back a bit for the liverpool game, and when we were missing song, fabregas, ramsey and denilson (the midfielders with experience) diaby we were always going to need a solid performance from diaby to get anything, and he stepped up to the plate. It wasnt the best game hes ever played, but he did his job defensively. He then went on to do the same against blackburn, which was equally as important. This is the side of his game that has been most criticised, but it’s clear hes workd hard to improve and has been extremely important in the opening games. He does sometimes hold on to the ball too long, its true, but it doesnt mean hes a poor player, and the fact is hes improving loads all the time. Just think we should recognise his early form and how far hes come from a couple of years ago.

  7. Hrm, felt that the title of the post was misleading but I see your point – and generally, think it is well made. This isn’t so much about Walcott’s defending, but rather his influence on opposition defenders.

  8. This is the side of his game that has been most criticised, but it’s clear hes workd hard to improve and has been extremely important in the opening games. Thanks for your info.


  9. “The Blackburn game showed just how much the presence of a pacey player like Walcott can affect the way a team attacks throughout the whole game. Quite simply, Blackburn tried their best to keep from giving up the ball to Walcott.”

    The above is the essence of the attacking winger’s defending, in my opinion. The mere threat of giving the ball away to a lightning fast attacking player steers the play away to the other flank. In addition it also forces the left fullback to stay put in defense and not risk overlaps and brave forward runs. It will be very interesting to see how Ashley Cole handles that. Either way he will lose out: he stays – Chelsea loses attacking power, he moves forward – Theo will utilize the space behind him.

    Great read!

  10. @ Andrew, thats a nice piece on Theo, i think the exclusion from the World cup was a blessing in disguise. keep up on the gud work.
    @OldGoon, nice, nice, nice

  11. so the transfer window has closed and another season beckons, lets analise
    arsenal this season compared to the ones gone. When arsene wenger arrived
    at arsenal in summer 1996 he inherited a team which prized itself on defence
    but success was far and few between. When wenger came he transformed arsenal
    and the style they play now they are more entertaining but less successful.
    The composition of the teams that have won the 3 titles so far in wenger’s
    14 season at arsenal is instark contrast to the current crop the championship
    teams had a combination of skill and (Importantly)physical presence they
    would not be bullied if you came to play football they would play and if you
    came to kick and fight they would not back down as a matter of fact they loved
    to play dirty.
    The nature of the game in england demand physically strong players or a
    combination of both MU have always had that hence they are the most successful
    team since the intro of the prem.
    In the six titles have been won by teams who can play football but who can
    also play physical and this is the difference. The new model arsene has
    chosen is built to entertain not win trophys and even when it comes to playing
    football they get beat by good teams so they can play footbal against hull,
    everton, wigan, porto, zagreb but not against mu chel, barca, inter
    It appears that success is measured by the football you play as opposed to
    titles you’v won.
    Fast track to this season the team has changed very little this season
    (not surprizing) mainly because wenger is not a man of his word and is
    stubborn as hell. Can this current team win? We shall see. The fact is if
    you win three titles in 14 seasons and changed the way we play and move to
    a new stadium this gives you the right to put aside winning trophies and just
    blindly ignor the fans, to spend 15 mill every season on players that take
    ages to develop.
    I’m convinced there is blind loyalty at arsenal from the fans to the board
    room am sure the board member have a problem that we have’nt won a trophy in
    6 season but they are afraid to say it. No other top club in Europe would
    accept this is madness if fergi goes three season without the title he’s gone
    am sure.
    I love Arsenal with all my heart but there must be a balance between trophies
    and budget, that is success not one of both.
    Frankly wenger should have been fired 2 season ago not for his lack of success
    but for his constant deception of the fan am not optimistic at all this season
    cause he outsmarted us with the keeper issue he new long in advance that he would
    not sign a new keeper yet he pretended to want one to fool us what goes around
    comes around (the law of the world) so when you continue to outsmart the fans
    wenger success will do the same to you. When madrid courted you last season
    i was not worried cause you cant coach there the last manager made 96 points
    and still got fired so you will continue to play with the pride of the fans
    As you always say judge me at the end of the season but its more like judge
    judge me in Jan when as most people predict we will be out of the race
    I have stop blaming the players cause they don’t buy themselves wenger must sholder every single blame if this were the army he would be court martialed…….
    In Arsene we Trust………

  12. One other comment about Blackburn’s fullbacks – I thought Givet played WAY too close to Walcott in this match and got turned inside-out multiple times. Salgado showed how to not look like an asshat when you come up against a pacey player and great dribbler like Arshavin; back off a bit more and cede a bit of space. Of course you’re going to allow Arshavin space to play, but you’re not going to “get done” either.

    @ kel – I do understand where you’re coming from and it’s frustrating sometimes. But we’re in a recession and Arsene, with a Master’s Degree in Economics, has seen (and probably predicted) what’s happened to clubs like Leeds, Liverpool, and Portsmouth; if you overextend yourself you’re going to get hurt. He wants to run the club in a responsible way without handing control over to an owner who doesn’t understand the way football works. That is the opposite of madness.

    What I would accuse Wenger of is failing to see what the impact of outside ownership would be. And I don’t think anybody foresaw Chelsea’s influence in 2003.

  13. I play theo should keep his form and fitness,i can’t wait to watch the match against chelski and how ashley cole will cope with theo.first ashley won’t attack the way he use to meaning there chances of attacking through wing will be zero.

  14. Really enjoying your articles Andrew, you’re seeing things I certainly never do during a match. It’s incredible how psychologically advantageous it can be having a speed merchant like Theo in form if it directly affects the tactics of opposing players and managers. Speaking of which, I wonder if “Stick to the right” was a suggestion of Big Sam or whether the players just naturally tended to ignore the left flank. If only we had a Theo on both wings.

    @kel: Your hero Jose Mourinho has already said Arsenal wont win a trophy this year, there’s no need for you to follow the Gunners this season. Better hibernate until next year.

  15. @ brooks
    why do you support arsenal? You dream of finishing 3rd and 4th every year and meeting the Quarter final of the champions league (which when we meet recognized teams we get knocked out) and you’r satisfied with that give me a break the only thing arsenal can boast is financial stability BUT the dam team don’t benefit from the club being financially stable we could’nt even pay 4mill for a keeper we buy players for 10mill and less every year is this club growing is this year any different that last, Hell no
    And on Jose Mourinho we could learn a thing or two from this man cause he knows how to win titles he is a trophy magnet he does’nt stick shit its either you cut it or not
    And remember wenger has never beaten Jose Mourinho in a football match
    So bob you can continue to be dinosaur and accept prehistoric tricks every year from wenger who clearly has lost the plot by sacrificing trophies for entertaining football
    If you accept that then fine but no way in hell am going to accept that success is a financially stable club and a trophies not one of them both of them that how you measure success.
    4 season now we have been at the emirates and not a single trophy and i must accept this and wenger saying the fa cup is not success the carling cup is not success you have to creep before you walk look at MU they have won the carling cup recently
    If you say to me i need time to build a team i say fine i give you max 5 seasons to start to win this is the 7th season wenger time has ran out he will hang his ownself with his stubborn attitude
    I love arsenal but i am not prepared to accept foolishness from any one mostly someone like wenger who should no better..

    compound this the manager

  16. We haven’t gone seven years without a trophy, and to be honest you know nothing about how hard we pursued a goalkeeper during the window at all. You have no insider knowledge of the clubs finances, transfer dealings, nor a crystal ball which allows you to write the team off after three games in the season just because Arsene didn’t sign a very average goalkeeper. Your cynicism is bordering on biblical proportions and it’s depressing to read. We’ve had three games this season and looked impressive, yet you’re churning out diatribes about how we’re doomed from the start.

    Would you swap our club with Portsmouth out of interest? They have an FA cup in their trophy cabinet to show off after spending ludicrously beyond their means. Perhaps paying £4 million pounds for a keeper that has maybe two seasons left in him is not a very good idea for the club, and perhaps it isn’t that easy to cherry-pick other goalkeepers at will from other clubs.

  17. @ brooks
    We looked impressive in all three games? what games do you watch we could’nt beat pool who had 10 men you are for sure a blind loyalist.
    Am not saying go spend wild money like mancity but address the weak areas of team every year its the same excuses
    By the way its been (6) seasons since arsenal won the league wenger dose’nt count the fa cup.
    How hard did they persue a goal keeper that is a load of garbage wenger never wanted a goal keeper it appears he was playing psychological game with almunia and its well documented that the club makes a profit every year so don’t give me that sh*T
    i said nothing for five years because i trusted wenger to work this out but he has not and there is no light at the end of the tunnel five years is more than enough. When last have we finished 2nd you can’t say, five seasons ago ever since 3rd and 4th
    Every year we make the same mistakes and get punished and that’s improvement give me a break
    If you had a son and he keeps failing a course every season would you not do something to help him would you just leave him to flop every year and make excuses
    Am mad as hell by the way wenger has outsmarted us and i don’t go on other websites and complain i wash my dirty cloths @ home this is where am supposed to complain \
    So BOB if it’s depressing to u then don’t read cause it’s the truth is it wrong to tell the truth
    I love arsenal that’s why it hurts me so much i want this club to do well but as long as we make a profit the board and wenger don’t give a sh*T about us
    When someone does well i give jack his jacket and when u do badly expect the same i can’t pretend

  18. We drew to a Liverpool team at their home ground when we had nowhere near our best XI players on the opening game of the season, and even then we pretty much outplayed them for long periods. Of course Arsene wanted a goalkeeper, that’s why he stuck bids in, but he wasn’t bullied out of the market. £4m for a 38 year old keeper who doesn’t significantly improve your team is unacceptable. At £2m it’s a justifiable risk for AW, that’s all there is to it.

    Arsene is a football manager, he isn’t Derren Brown on some major wind up mission. Outsmarting us? Get real man, he’s just doing his job, a job in a climate you know nothing about. We conveniently stopped finishing in the top 2 once a multibillionaire bought out Chelsea and pumped an absurd amount of money into their club. Strange that. Would you still hate Arsene if we’d have won the Champions League in 2006? Or would you just be here moaning that we hadn’t won anything in the last four years then, instead of five?

  19. All this if and if, where are you from man? MU didn’t spend a lot of money they just bought the right the type of players and the ones they had performed up to the level remember ronaldo came to united at a young age but he improved and they won 3 titles in row so even if chel have money if you buy right then you can succeed for sure valencia won titles in spain by buying the right players among madrid and barca so your point is broken. Wenger has gone away from what made him a success he buys the wrong type of players
    the combination is wrong totally wrong
    On the keeper issue there is noway you can tell me wenger wanted a keeper because Schwarzer was not the only keeper outthere arsenal under wenger just wants to buy cheap and quality is expensive But wenger had made up his mind about almunia along time ago so all the excuses you make is not backed up by facts
    Are you arsene wenge?r by the way i don’t hate wenger i hate how he has turned his back on trophies if another manager had done this i would be the same way.
    By the way arsenal bought rosicky from germany injury prone they bought bishoff injury prone vanpercy injury prone are these players not a risk as well so what is your point
    Schwarzer is a whole lot better that almunia so that could not be a risk if we go two good years from himthat would be money well spent look at vanpercy always injured he is the biggest risk.

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