Will Cazorla Signing See Theo Move Into The Middle?

By Daniel Cowan
In Arsenal
Jul 23rd, 2012
9 Comments

Santi Cazorla, the latest player Arsenal have been linked with and the latest player the ITK types have claimed we are definitely signing is my focus today although I do not claim to be an expert on him but I may have watched him more than The Boss as Wenger is reported as saying “Who is this guy?”. It would seem that Wenger is not interested in the player but Wenger not being interested usually means we are interested although I do think The Boss is being genuine when he says that M’Vila isn’t on his radar. I said for ages that I was sceptical about that deal and was sceptical if he was the player we need or not so I am not surprised that Wenger has poured water on that one and don’t expect it to be diversionary. As Wenger said, we have enough cover in midfield with Jack and Diaby coming back to fitness.

Not joining?

I have used various statistics in my blogs before and I appreciate that statistics don’t always tell the “full story” however I think that statistics, in their raw numeric form, is one of the fairest ways an average fan can judge a player. Statistics are often used to enforce a point and if the statistics say something that goes against a certain person’s view you can be sure that person will trot out the “stats aren’t everything” line. A great example of this could be Denilson or even Ramsey, both have very high pass accuracy % and the fans of these players will point to this and say “look, they are good passers” those in the opposite camp will say “yeah but how many of those were sideways and backwards passes?” to support their point. I just stick with numbers; I don’t agree with questioning statistics because we don’t agree with them or because they don’t fit our own views. I believe you have to accept statistics as they are or you have to take a hell of a lot of things into consideration that you may never have thought of before. I say this because I am going to use statistics to explore an idea or opinion if you will, that I have. What I am writing are my own thoughts and not fact – I feel the need to say that as I’ve had a few trolls on twitter jumping on everything I tweet as if I am claiming it all to be Gospel – alas I digress.

On to the main event – I believe that the time has come for Theo Walcott to move up front and I believe that the potential signing of Santiago Cazorla (if Wenger works out who he is ;)) will enable this.

I’m not going to get in too deep with formations etc and how we would accommodate Theo up front as I’ve covered that in an earlier post and to do so again would make this post over 5000 words long.

I’ve done a comparison of Cazorla and the players we have used on the flanks last season and who should be with us next season to continue in those spots.

 CazorlaWalcottGervinhoOxlade-Chamberlain
Minutes Played3246 Minutes
38 Games
2747 Minutes
35 Games
1685 Minutes
28 Games
556 Minutes
16 Games
Average Minutes Per Appearance85786035
Goals9842
Assists5861
Minutes Per Goal Contribution232 Minutes
(2.7 games)
172 Minutes
(2.2 games)
169 Minutes
(2.8 games)
185 Minutes
(5.3 games)
Shots Per Game/Appearance2.32.21.40.9
Average Passes Per Game58242215
Pass Accuracy85%79.3%84.7%84.4%
Key Passes Per Game2.21.21.30.7
Crosses1.60.50.10.4
Tackles2.2 (average per game)
82 (total)
0.5 (average per game)
18 (total)
0.9 (average per game)
25 (total)
0.6 (average per game)
10 (total)
Interceptions2.6 (average per game)
99 (total)
0.5 (average per game)
17 (total)
0.7 (average per game)
20 (total)
0.4 (average per game)
7 (total)

As you can see from this table Cazorla is more effective in almost every area when compared to the others apart from goal/assist contributions where he comes second to Walcott. This is not a bad thing however because Theo Walcott, it must be noted, over the past two seasons is 5th on the list of assist-makers in the league behind RVP, Young, Silva and Nani.

The great Casillas is unable to stop Cazorla’s rocket

The thing that impresses me most about Cazorla and what I think will benefit Arsenal best is his ability to cover his full-back whilst remaining offensively dangerous, essentially his ability to balance attack and defence. Statistically he wipes the floor with all of our wide players when it comes to tackles and interceptions and if there is a criticism I have of the 4-3-3 system it’s that it leaves our flanks exposed but doesn’t improve our attack as it should as we are essentially playing 4-5-1 but we put our wingers as high up the pitch as our striker. We have width but also a gaping hole between the winger and the full-back.

Next, Cazorla has a better pass success rate than the three players he has been compared with and has an average number of passes per game almost the sum of the compared players put together. His key pass rate is higher than our statistically best wide player, Theo Walcott, and that leads me to believe that in a team like Arsenal he would make a lot more chances and they’d be put away a lot more too. He is also a bit more partial to a cross than our current wide players which I think will be of massive benefit to Giroud.

At 27 years of age (28 in December) we would be getting a player in his prime who is an international player who despite only making “cameo” appearances for Spain in tournaments has been involved in two successful European Championship campaigns.

The statistics tell me that we’d be signing a very effective offensive player who would probably thrive and improve in this Arsenal team and who isn’t shy about his defensive responsibilities which makes us a stronger defensive unit. The 9 odd games I’ve seen him play for Malaga this season confirm that the statistics do tell the whole story in my opinion.

Santi Cazorla

He has a decent shot on him, can pass with both feet and is quick on the turn and his vision is very much what Arsenal look for in a player. Some of his movement reminds me a little of Pires and a little of Guily as well. Check out the below video and see for yourself.

My only concerns about him are his height and his weight. At 168cm (5’6″) he is a small player and despite showing tenacity and a willingness to defend in La Liga I fear he may get eaten alive in the premier league or find he is a little too old to adapt, a very small (no pun intended) issue but one that I think we should be aware of if we do snap him up. The weight is a slight (again no pun intended) concern for me. At 66kg he isn’t exactly an elephant but it does make him the same weight as Gervinho who is 11cm (just over 4 inches) taller than him and only 2kg lighter than Theo who is 9cm taller than him but as we know, Theo did a lot of work on his upper body to build his resistance to shoulder injuries. He isn’t overweight at all but at premier league level where even the goalies are athletes and the pace of the game we have in England I worry that those extra couple of kilos, given his height, might slow him down a bit. However I’m not too concerned about losing a bit of pace on the flanks if we add it up front by finally giving Theo a shot at centre-forward.

Wenger has said all along that he sees Walcott moving into the middle and Theo claimed after he signed his last contract in 2009 that Wenger had told him he’d be moving him to the middle soon. That hasn’t happened but I think that has been through a mixture of formation and necessity. We built a team around Cesc and sadly I think that completely ruled out playing with two strikers and I’m sure you’ll agree that Theo cannot play up top on his own. With Cesc out of the picture I thought we might see a change in formation but instead we played to Van Persie’s newly found strengths, him having discovered his scoring boots when he slotted into the Cesc system. Now that Robin is on his way or at the very least since we have bought players who aren’t obvious choices to fit the system I think we might see a bit of a formation shake up, nothing too drastic but maybe a bit more flexibility and not trying to play the same system no matter the personnel or the opposition.

This change, if it happens, could be the making of Theo Walcott as one of the most dangerous strikers in the league. Yes, that is right, I believe that if played through the middle Theo will be one of the most feared strikers in the league.

Theo Scoring

Theo is often maligned for his final ball but playing as a striker he will be tucking away final balls rather than crossing to no-one or beating two men to find himself by the corner flag with no-one in the box. Theo will be the man in the box. His pace frightens pretty much every player out there and on his day, even stuck out on the right, he is almost unplayable, his goal against Chelsea where he took a little tumble before getting up and skipping past two and blasting the ball past Cech should give you the confidence that he can do it through the middle, his hat-trick against Slavia in the 7-0 win and performance against Blackpool should show you what he can do through the middle (or receiving the ball in central positions) and his England hat-trick came from collecting the ball in central positions too. Theo Walcott is a striker and he has a strikers instinct and that is why he is so inconsistent on the wing and his best performances (goals wise) have all come from collecting the ball through the middle. Theo is not like Henry who started as a striker and moved to the left and then moved back up top and just because of his speed and similar journey Theo is wrongly compared to him. Ian Wright was a natural goalscorer with killer instinct and he would have been awful on the wing, in that respect Theo is more like the man so good they named him three times than he is The King. Theo wants to be in front of the goal, he wants to live on the shoulder of the centre-backs. He doesn’t belong on the coat tails of the full-back but he does it and when on form he does it very well.

He’s served his time on the wing now and deserves a chance through the middle, he’ll never be any better or any more consistent on the wing than he is now so should be given the chance to show of the striking abilities he already possesses.

For example, Walcott has the shots on target percentage of a top EPL striker. The below table shows his shots on target % compared to the top 7 scorers from last season.

Player% Of Shots That Were On Target
Walcott44%
RVP44%
(48% if you only consider last 18 months)
Rooney44%
Aguero41%
Ba
42%
Adebayor
51%
Dempsey
38%
Yakubu53%

As you can see, Theo is on par with the two top strikers and better than the third best in terms of shots on target. Now I haven’t compared how many shots they actually take because it would be unfair as Theo is out on the wing but I think what this shows is that when Theo takes a shot it goes towards the right place as much as a number of strikers you’d kill to have in your team. If Theo was put through the middle and was received instead of provider and not having to shoot from acute angles I think he could be extremely prolific. He has excellent positioning, good strength, extraordinary speed, reasonable composure and a relatively accurate shot. Playing in his preferred position will obviously give him confidence but it will also give him a reason to work on the composure and shooting and if there is one thing Theo is it’s dedicated. He’s hard-working and willing to improve. Theo has the attributes to play as a striker, now all he needs is the opportunity and a prolonged run.

With a proper winger like Cazorla taking up a spot on the wings Theo has no choice but to sink or swim as a centre-forward if given the opportunity because he won’t win his RW spot back from Cazorla and he’s awful on the left (because he isn’t a winger).

Some think Cazorla is coming to play CAM and he no doubt has the talent to do so but for me he is a winger; he spent 90% of his career on the wing.

I’d love to see Theo thrown in at the deep end as a striker just to see the amazement on so many faces when he swims like a fish.

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About "" - 475 Posts

I am a South London born Gooner now living in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. I'm a husband, daddy, podcaster, trainer enthusiast and aspiring author. My work is my passion and for that I will always be grateful. Here is where I write my thoughts and views on Arsenal Football Club, the greatest team the world has ever seen.

9 Responses to “Will Cazorla Signing See Theo Move Into The Middle?”

  1. davi says:

    “I just stick with numbers; I don’t agree with questioning statistics because we don’t agree with them or because they don’t fit our own views.”
    Well, not always – pass accuracy alone leaves out an enourmous amount of important information, including the direction of the pass, as you say but for some reason dismiss. The statistics certainly tell you *something* about the player, but having a high pass % only means that the passes the person elects to play are accurate. In M’vila’s case, you only have to watch him to know that he plays forward passes extremely quickly and accurately, and actively attempts to start attacks. This may lead to him having a lower overall pass accuracy than some other midfielders who are less active in trying to start attacks, but it may nonetheless make him a more effective player. Denilson, for example, did far less of this, and so, on the one hand he kept possession well for arsenal, at least in terms of his passing (he was guilty of being caught in possession at times as well), but doesn’t quite equate to his effectiveness as a midfielder. You can also play an accurate pass which puts a teammate under immense pressure, which can more easily lead to your own team coming under pressure. So an accurate pass is not the same as a good pass.
    Another example, which could relate to Cazorla, is Hleb. This guy barely registered assists or goals, but he was fantastic for Arsenal in many ways. He didn’t often get the final through pass, but he was very incisive, and was a contributor in many, many goals for Arsenal, but often not a direct contributor. Modric is similar, and he’s a player who is well-recognised as a top class playmaker but doesn’t get many goals/assists, and I think Cazorla has elements of this to his game as well. He may not always get the goal/assist (although he does get plenty), but he can be incisive in his passing and movement. He is a more intelligent and consistent winger than Walcott.
    When it comes to moving Theo into the middle, it could only work if the formation is switched to 4-4-2, and there were times when our tactics did change last season, with Theo pushing up much closer to RVP, and the other winger dropping back, making an effective 4-4-2; so it may be something AW is considering. I certainly wouldn’t bet against him being a quality striker, and would like to see it tested on a more consistent basis. I think he’s only played up front once, in the 7-0 win over Sparta Prague (?), and he scored 2 goals, so why not?

  2. Matt Cooper says:

    big man little man combination with Giroud up top? would love to see us try it at least!

  3. NYgunner says:

    Excellent article. Well argued and supported by the stats. Theo is the most underrated player at Arsenal. Yes he sometimes drives us crazy but statistically he is one of the best in the EPL. Arsenal should pay him…… and give him a shot up front.

  4. Fall River Gooner says:

    Very well thought out and put. They with Theo as a front man is definitely having the proper winger as you well stated. Cuz God bless his soul, but the lad can NOT take on defender to save his life! (unless of course he gets a step on them, in which case it’s all over)
    And as for Wenger not knowing who Cazorla is, I think that’s a big of Wenger tongue in cheek lol.

  5. how about we go with a 4-4-2 giroud/podolski/walcott as strikers.
    gervinho/chamberlain/walcott/cazorla can be used on the wings. arteta/m’villa/song as DM’s and cazorla/wishere/ramsey/rosciky/diaby in that AM role. This i think will be a more balanced and it will bring us back to those counter attacking golden days

  6. Totally agree with the Walcott points. Well put & I hope AW is thinking the same!

  7. KM says:

    my thoughts exactly….Bring Walcott on as the impact striker and he will kill those tired defences with his searing pace and clinical finishing. He needs time as a striker….polish the gem folks

  8. […] wing, but can still play striker just as well. Not to mention that the time is growing near for Theo Walcott to complete his long-awaited move from winger to central striker with the addition of S…Wenger has never been shy to point out his  depth at striker, even Gervinho had a decent run at it […]

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