When Theo Walcott arrived on to the scene as a 16-year-old at Southampton, tongues were a wagging. This little kid looked like he had it all. He was always destined for the top of the game. Nike don’t usually get it wrong and when they signed the sprightly youngster to a deal at the tender age of 14, big things were expected.
It seemed to get even better for the Stanmore-born flyer, when Arsenal came calling and signed him for £12m in 2006. That seems fairly cheap, such is the money around the game nine years on, but at that time it was seen as an enormous price to pay for one so young. However, people never questioned whether it was good business.
When arriving at the Emirates no one really knew what Walcott’s best position was. It is a little worrying now that at 26 years of age that still appears to be the case.
It was presumed he could learn from the best in Theirry Henry, and it was hoped that upon the Frenchman’s departure there would be a natural goalscorer waiting in the wings. However, that has not been the case. Walcott has broken into double figures just once in the Premier League, back in the 2012/13 campaign, and the debate about his position still rumbles on.
The player himself is convinced he is a centre forward, his manager never has been. Walcott is only ever given the opportunity to lead the line when Arsenal go through a mini-striking crisis or they are up against a slow backline. It’s hardly a ringing endorsement.
In all fairness to Walcott, he does tend to deliver on the goal front, but he scores his goals in patches, before falling away and ultimately seeing himself pushed wide or relegated to the bench. Last season he notched three in as many starts in January and February, before seeing himself dropped, then in May, with Arsenal having scored just once in three games, he hit a hat-trick against West Brom, securing himself a place in the FA Cup final team, where he again went on to score.
The Gunners started this term with some real struggles in front of goal. Olivier Giroud was simply not firing and Alexis Sanchez was having more shots than anyone in the Premier League, but not scoring any goals. That saw Walcott given the nod at Stoke, where he grabbed his first of the season, before going on to score in the Champions League against Dinamo Zagreb. That goal earned him a go at a wounded Chelsea back four, but that turned out to be a disaster, with two red cards costing the north Londoners any hope of victory.
Theo’s reintroduction at Leicester sparked a wonderful performance last weekend, and he was at the heart of it. When their front four link up like they did at against the Foxes it is difficult to understand how Walcott is not the first name on the team sheet. He now has to prove that he has added consistency to his game and actually become that.
Prior to the weekend’s game, Walcott had missed more clear cut chances than any player in the top-flight, and that is something he is regularly criticised for, but the way he took his goal at the King Power Stadium showed his confidence is high, which for Walcott is pivotal.
He repeated that again against Olympiacos in the Champions League in midweek. Granted, Arsenal reverted back to being offensive to the world shambles, but Theo looked bright and incisive. His movement was clever, he got his goal and he laid on an assist, there wasn’t really much he could do about his manager choosing to rotate his goalkeepers in a pivotal clash.
This could be the biggest weekend of the England forward’s career. He is no longer a youngster, he is approaching his peak, and he must start delivering on a regular basis as a centre forward if he wants to be given the honour of leading the Arsenal line.
A huge game against Manchester United awaits on Sunday. It’s a fixture that could determine the destination of the remainder of Walcott’s career. Prove himself as a genuine striking option and he makes Arsenal’s bench a much better looking place, whilst angering Olivier Giroud, let it slip again and he is destined to another campaign on the wing, before the inevitable late season crisis.
Walcott regularly has an impact against lesser teams because of his pace, as he did against Olympiacos. He is constantly looking to get in behind, and with Arsenal dominating possession he is given that luxury of making endless runs across the back of defenders. Against Man United that will not be the case. The Red Devils like to dominate the ball much more than they used to and the attacker will have to prove to his manager that he has developed into a much more intelligent and effective footballer.
These are the games in which players are judged, not only by supporters, but by their superiors as well. Theo has earned the right to start at the weekend by finding the net against Arsenal’s Greek opponents but at the Emirates on Sunday he must finally show us all he is becoming the centre-forward he so yearns to be. After all, he is Arsenal’s only option.