Who's better - Gareth Bale or Theo Walcott?

North London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur possess two of the Premier League’s best talents in the Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale.

Both 23 years of age, both ‘wingers’ with goalscoring tendencies, both fast, both tricky, and both with bright futures ahead of them as they enter the peak years of their careers. But which player would you rather have in your team?

Firstly, Bale is the more physically dangerous – he’s stronger and more powerful than his English counterpart. Walcott still gets shrugged off the ball too often, where’s Bale’s core and upper-body strength seldom sees him harassed into losing possession.

The Welshman is two inches taller which means his center of gravity is marginally higher than Walcott’s but the Spurs winger compensates with exceptional balance and agility.

Where Walcott is superior is pace and acceleration – that’s not to say Bale isn’t fast but Walcott certainly has the edge over him. However, opposition defenders can nullify his pace by playing a deeper defensive line – as Newcastle found out the hard way on Saturday.

If you let him hang on the shoulder of the last defender, you’re always vulnerable to a well-weighted through ball or over the top. Much the same can be said for Bale and Spurs but where the Welshman is again superior is in his finishing technique.

Walcott’s hat-trick on Saturday demonstrated how much he has improved in front of goal – his decision-making and the precision with which he executes it has come on leaps and bounds but I still feel Bale has more range with his finishing. Bale can score from anywhere in or around the opposition penalty area – if he spots a gap, he can leave the keeper with no chance.

Walcott, on the other hand, sometimes looks like a one-trick pony – whilst many suggested his finishing for the first goal was Thierry Henry-esc, I’d say it was Walcott-esc – nine times out of ten he’ll pass the ball low into the bottom corner of the net.

Conversely, I’d say his second and third goals were far more Henry-like. Both had the mark of a forward playing with confidence, composure and an instinct for goalscoring.

That is something Bale demonstrates week in, week out and I think a perfect example of Bale’s superior finishing technique is when you look at his set-piece deliveries.

Bale is certainly more of a dead-ball specialist than Walcott – the spin and swerve and backspin on the ball when he shoots shows he’s been practicing and studying in the same way Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Didier Drogba and Robin van Persie have.

The same cannot be said for Walcott – he’s no novice but he’s nowhere near as prolific as Bale is when it comes to scoring direct free-kicks.

Next, I considered the mentality of the pair and, again, I think Bale comes out on top. He has more determination, bravery, and commitment than the Englishman – whilst Walcott has been in superb form this season, he often goes missing in games when his team are struggling. That is the time when you need leaders on the pitch the most.

Bale is Spurs’ leader by example – he’s the engine driving the team forward and he never gives up until the final whistle. Walcott has definitely looked more feisty and prepared to get stuck in this season but I don’t think it comes naturally to him. I can’t really imagine Walcott as a captain, where as Bale is certainly captain material.

Strangely, when I began writing this article, I expected to find less of a gulf between the two – I imagined a more even balance but unfortunately it looks as if Walcott has a lot of improvements to make to ensure a comparison is fair.

If you asked 100 Premier League centre-backs who they’d rather play against, I think the majority would probably say Walcott is less of a handful. With him the main attribute that makes him dangerous is his pace, if you can nullify that with a deep defensive line and not letting him get goal-side, you can keep him quiet.

Walcott is not going to hold the ball up or turn and shrug you off like Bale can. Bale will run at the opposition like Walcott does but his strength, power, technique and precision makes him a much trickier customer.

I remember in his breakthrough season when Spurs faced Inter Milan at the San Siro in the Champion’s League back in 2010 – Maicon was tasked with Gareth Bale and the 21-year-old Welshman exposed and, frankly, embarrassed him all night. Maicon was then the reigning UEFA Defender of the Year.

Bale has been one of the best young players in the world for at least 2 years now – Walcott has just started to show signs of genuine world-class quality this season – as he conceded himself, he’s been “consistent in patches” for the majority of his professional career so far.

A silver lining for the Gunners is if Arsenal lose Walcott, they won’t struggle half a much as Spurs will without Bale. A player of that quality is simply irreplaceable and, with all due respect to Spurs, I think his head will be turned soon by the prospect of a big move. Not in January, perhaps not even next summer, but eventually.

Who is better? Bale or Walcott?

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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