A mistake in his Arsenal development?

To be convinced by the argument of another is a humbling experience, to renege on your own staunchly held beliefs through a process unaided self-discovery just seems sad. Yet, as melodramatic as it may seem, that is the situation that I find myself facing currently. I’m a long-standing supporter of Theo Walcott. I know every argument under the sun in his defence, and I believe most of them too, but his recent dip in form (a seasonal occurrence) has lead to the concentration on arguments of a slightly different nature. Perhaps the argument shouldn’t be whether or not he has what it takes, but whether or not his development has been stunted by something other than just injury?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has seen his reputation as a nurturer of talent attract some of the brightest prospects in football to his club, and he earned it too. The likes of Ashley Cole, Kolo Toure, Alex Song, Gael Clichy, Thierry Henry, Jack Wilshere and many others owe a lot to the coaching and confidence they received from Arsene Wenger. But that doesn’t mean he always gets things right. Getting the best out of young players is not an exact science. Different players need help in different areas and looking at Walcott, now 22, you begin to wonder what it is exactly that is wrong with his game? And how long will he be a developing player? The idea, perpetrated by Chris Waddle, that he lacks a ‘football brain’ is not only a lazy and simplistic analogy, it’s also wrong. You can’t explain phenomena with concepts that don’t exist. You have confidence and a lack of confidence; not football brains and some equally conceptually weak opposite type of brain.

You have to be fair to Walcott: he has a hard few years at Arsenal. The call up to the world cup can only have messed with his head, on top of that he had the weight of expectation having signed for, in Arsenal’s terms, a large transfer fee and he also had consistent injury problems to deal with. However instead of spending hours in the training ground and occasionally getting an opportunity with the first team wouldn’t Wenger have been better sending Walcott out on loan? Clearly Theo has a problem with confidence. In the past he always seemed overly meek and although their appears to be an air of bravado about him these days his woeful finishing of late says otherwise.

Instead of being in a high pressure environment with so much expectation, like there was at Arsenal, Walcott would have been much better off on loan at another club. You only have to look at players like Daniel Sturridge or Jack Wilshere’s loan spells at Bolton to see what can be achieved. If, before the age of twenty, he had been allowed to iron out the problems with his game whilst on loan at lesser clubs he would not have developed what appear to be deep seated insecurities born out of the groans from the Emirates’ crowd, and believe me there are many. Instead of making mistakes but still being a valuable member of a low Premier League, or Championship club he remained in an environment where he was valued very little for the first few years of his contract. You can understand Wenger wanting to keep him close after having spent so much money on him, he didn’t want Walcott picking up bad habits from coaching at other clubs, but it appears he did Walcott a disservice in the process. Ultimately there is no real substitute for experience. Fine if you want your young players to receive the best coaching then allow them to leave on loan for just half the season. There was so much time where Walcott should have been gaining match experience where instead he was simply on the training ground. You have to remember as well that Walcott started playing football quite late in comparison to other footballers due to his commitments to athletics. Therefore he in particular was in need of match experience.

I’m not saying that Wenger isn’t brilliant at developing talent, clearly he is, yet you can’t help but feel that Walcott’s development has hardly gone to plan, and you can’t just blame the player for that. Hopefully he can serve as a warning for players like Oxlade-Chamberlain.

For more Arsenal news and stories follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay

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