Tottenham and Arsenal fans have been arguing about Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott for longer than you might expect Ã¢ÂÂ Lennon joined Tottenham in the summer of 2005, while Walcott signed for Arsenal half a year later. Amazingly, Lennon is just two years away from a potential testimonial at Spurs, while Walcott is ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs longest-serving player following the loan departure of Johan Djourou in January.
ThereÃ¢ÂÂs an obvious reason for the argument Ã¢ÂÂ like Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen these are two very similar footballers. Both are small, quick right-wingers with great pace, but both have received criticism for their lack of end product. TheyÃ¢ÂÂve had similar career experiences too, coming through the ranks as their local club slipped out of the Premier League, and making an early move to North London.
Both were talented teenagers and set age-related records: Lennon became the youngest-ever Premier League footballer, while Walcott is still EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs youngest full international. In fact, they made their international debuts in the same week ahead of the 2006 World Cup; Walcott now has 10 more England caps, although Lennon has domestic honours in the form of a League Cup WinnersÃ¢ÂÂ medal from 2008.
Despite their longevity, this is arguably the first campaign where the two players have been simultaneously in excellent form. The focus on Gareth Bale has taken attention away from Aaron Lennon, and that applies to opponents as much as the media; SpursÃ¢ÂÂ 1-1 draw against Manchester United in January was a good example of Lennon getting space because the opposition were exposed on his side as a consequence of trying to stop Bale.
Walcott, meanwhile, is having an extremely efficient season. His 11 goals in the Premier League is a personal record already, as is his nine assists Ã¢ÂÂ heÃ¢ÂÂs in the top 10 goalscorers and top 10 providers in the division, underlining how heÃ¢ÂÂs improved his game.
The major difference between the players is the type of passes they receive. Although both are right-sided players, Walcott has frequently spoken of his preference for playing as a centre-forward, and heÃ¢ÂÂs a purer attacker than Lennon. The Arsenal player likes running onto passes that have been slid through the defence, and while Lennon has done that more often under Andre Villas-Boas, he still gets possession more frequently in deeper positions on the flank. Compare the passes they received in their most recent home matches:
Walcott has thrived with Jack Wilshere playing in midfield Ã¢ÂÂ Wilshere's left foot provides clever passes between opposition centre-back and left-back for Walcott to sprint onto, a combination that has worked nicely for both Arsenal and England this season. Lennon doesnÃ¢ÂÂt quite have that relationship with a teammate yet Ã¢ÂÂ Mousa Dembele is careful with his passing, but not as incisive as Luka Modric was, although Lewis Holtby is starting to play that role:
Because Walcott gets the ball in behind the defence more frequently than Lennon, heÃ¢ÂÂs much more of a goal threat. HeÃ¢ÂÂs scored 28 goals in the last three seasons, compared to LennonÃ¢ÂÂs nine, and takes close to three shots per game, whereas Lennon averages less than one.
But in deeper positions, Lennon remains more comfortable than Walcott. Although WalcottÃ¢ÂÂs crossing has improved, and statistically the two dribble past an opponent with similar frequency, thereÃ¢ÂÂs a difference in their effectiveness. Walcott hits a higher number of deliveries into the box, but LennonÃ¢ÂÂs deliveries are more useful Ã¢ÂÂ his crossing accuracy is almost twice as good.
Defensively, too, Lennon is more proactive. Because of Villas-Boas insistence upon pressing, Lennon completes twice as many tackles as Walcott, and three times as many interceptions.
Nearly seven years after their England debuts, Lennon and Walcott are still battling for a position on EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs right. Walcott is clearly the more efficient player in terms of goals and assists, but despite the many similarities between the two, theyÃ¢ÂÂve retained the characteristics of their natural role on the pitch Ã¢ÂÂ Walcott is a right-sided forward, Lennon is a right-sided midfielder.
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