Around the turn of the year, perhaps the most in form player in the Premier League was not Luis Suarez or Gareth Bale, but Theo Walcott, who seemed to be relishing a more central role for his side. Having signed a new deal, Walcott seemed set to be the key to Arsenal's challenge for a Champions League place, but he has failed to maintain his performance level, leading to accusations that his form was based on the desire of earning a valuable new contract.
However low your opinion of modern footballers is, this is hard to believe, and it is more likely that Walcott has regressed to his natural level after a stellar few months. But the drop off in performance is steep, and worth examining to see if there are any other reasons for his decline.
From November to the end of January, Walcott scored nine goals and set up a further six in thirteen appearances. Since then, in nine games for Arsenal he has only scored once and provided three assists. The drop off in goals in particularly alarming, and Arsenal have been fortunate that Santi Cazorla has emerged from his own mid-season slump to pick up the slack.
Walcott did perhaps play more frequently in a central role around Christmas, but he was also scoring regularly when starting on the flank in that period. It is also worth considering that Arsenal's big wins over Reading, West Ham and Newcastle came in that period, with Walcott picking up five goals and three assists out of the seventeen the team scored in those matches alone.
It could simply be a case that Arsenal have become a more conservative side in recent weeks, with Arsene Wenger recognising that their attacking style was able to help them thrash smaller teams, but was costing them too often against their league rivals. This could fuel the suggestion that Walcott is a good man to help pile in when Arsenal are well on top, but rarely is the difference in a tight match.
That will be a tag he will want to avoid, and the best way to do so would be to find his scoring touch in the final few weeks and help propel his side into the top four. If Walcott's dip is down to Arsenal setting up more defensively in tight matches, he has to prove that he can then find them the odd goal to win those games, especially if he wants to be compared to the likes of Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale, players who have consistently been the difference for their teams this season.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald