Plagued by years of inconsistency, in performance and position, time is running out for the Arsenal attacker.
I still remember the day when Arsenal signed Theo Walcott. That night, on ESPN’s SportsCenter, the caption ran Wenger’s new THEO-ry. He was 16 — my age at the time. I can’t believe it was over a decade ago. Arsenal have always been a club with an eye for talent. Arsene Wenger is a man who knows his youngsters. This was a manager who turned promising talents into the hottest properties in club football. We know the names in that illustrated list. Theo Walcott was to be Wenger’s latest gem.
Before the Southampton graduate had even played in the Premier League, Sven-Göran Eriksson took him to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Here was teenager who was sharing the locker room with the likes of David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand. Theo Walcott became a household name. Kind of like Alex Hunter in FIFA 17, if you know what I mean.
A week shy of his 11 anniversary at Arsenal, Walcott remains the talent that never truly arrived.
Though he was taken to the World Cup in 2006. He did not play for the Three Lions. Walcott didn’t make the squad in the next two editions.
Unlike others who’ve come of age at Arsenal, the club never had a significant contract tensions with Walcott. The rivals did not try to lure him away. In fact, Arsenal fans are divided over their opinion of the England player. For someone who pockets close to £140,000 a week, what is the significant impact he delivers, the critics asks.
A fair point.
It’s not because he is short of talent. The pace, movement and technique comes naturally to the ex- Southampton man. Walcott is talented alright. It’s down to his fitness tussles over the years that never really enabled him to deliver the goods. Year after year, the plot remains the same. Patience is running thin.
I doubt if Walcott has ever had a single season without missing a good chunk through injuries. It’s been the story of his life. I’d like to see some stats on the amount of months he would have missed through injuries in all his years at the club. To date, 2012/13 was his best year by a mile, scoring 21 goals and 16 assists across all competitions. It’s the only time he has recorded double digits in goals and assists in the same season.
If its not injuries, then its been the difficulty to nail down a fixed position in the team. Arsenal have a plethora of attacking midfielders come wingers. They always have. Injuries and options have lead to Wenger experiment with Walcott as a striker. It’s been met with mixed effect. The competition for places upfront with Alexis Sánchez, Olivier Giroud and Lucas Pérez all vying for starts has pushed him back to his natural role on the right wing. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain prefers there. Now young Alex Iwobi can emerge as a more serious threat as well. Competition is heavy.
The thing is Walcott turns 28 in a week’s time. These are the prime years of a footballer — unless of course you’re a Zlatan who gets better and better post 30. If Arsenal lands a new manager in the summer, Walcott’s name would be in the list of potential discards. He’s running out of time.
Last week, Walcott scored the only goal in the drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich. It was a great finish from a tight angle against Manuel Neuer. That was Walcott’s 16th of the season. Minutes later, he tried the same again. A few inches to the left and he would even had his 17th. The talent is there. But by the second half, it was a typical Walcott performance — one that promised much, but fizzed out. To be fair, the entire Arsenal team was shambolic after the break.
Despite the constant injury troubles, Walcott still possesses his famed blistering pace, that once prompted Pep Guardiola to say “you need a pistol to stop him.” Walcott had a great start to 2016/17. If he can keep himself fit and play through a season, perhaps the best of Theo Walcott is yet to come.
One can only hope.