A quick glance at whoscored would re-affirm most fans view of who can cross a ball in the EPL. Here are some of the names in the top 20 who put over the most accurate no of balls per game: Leighton Baines, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Juan Mata, Samir Nasri, Ashley Young.
It would be no surprise, either, to see Theo Walcott down in 77th position. But he’s even worse at it than you might think. It takes him nearly two games to put in an accurate cross. He crossed the ball 134 times last year. Only 18 (EIGHTEEN) of them found a team mate.
Given that even the most accurate guys are only on target with 25-30% of their crosses it’s again no surprise that the trend among football analysts is to label the cross as ‘inefficient’ and point to Spain as proof positive that it’s best to keep possession rather than keep pinging hopeful balls into the box.
But when you look closer at Walcott’s accurate crosses the only way to describe them is ‘devastating’. 6 of the 18 crosses have been assists. While Baines and Co might be picking out team mates more regularly, they’re obviously more difficult balls to deal with than Walcott’s. If they were laying it on a plate as efficiently as Walcott they’d have 20+ assists per season. They don’t and they haven’t.
The graphics below show the chances created in the games he made assists:
You’ll note that only the assist versus Fulham looks like a good old cross from wide into the six yard box. The only other assist from outside the box came against Newcastle. However, this involved Robin van Persie executing a magnificent turn to face goal before firing past best mate, Tim Krul.
6 of the 8 assists come from inside the box from short crosses/pull-backs. It’s noticeable that the majority of the chances created in these games are from narrow positions. Walcott is not a wide player in the old sense of getting chalk on his boots. @MarkTaylor0 has some thoughts around optimum on-pitch goalscoring positions with regards Spain at Euro 2012 here.
It’s worth noting that only 10 players made more assists than Walcott last season. And none of the most accurate crossers scored more goals than he did. Only Nani matched him in that regard. Walcott has end product.
Differentgame wonders if the arrival of target-man Giroud might see Wenger stray more from the 4-3-3 deployed in recent times, in order to give Walcott the chance he craves through the middle. Or indeed if a move away from the Emirates would assist him in that regard.
Follow me on twitter here.