Since arriving at Arsenal over ten years ago, Theo Walcott has seldom enjoyed form as good as he is currently showing. His signing was greeted with great hope, hope he could be Thierry Henry reincarnate, hope he could be the English, homegrown hero that every club craves. What followed was a decade dominated by disappointment, with the occasional run of form that reignited such ambitious dreams of success. None of these instances have ever been anything more than a streak.
A prolific 2012/13 season was the closest Walcott has ever been to reaching the lofty potential that he was burdened with. Heroics at Southampton when he was barely allowed to have a pint of beer at a family meal were always going to elevate the expectations. Young English players suffer from this more than anyone and Walcott perfectly fitted the bill to be hyped to the point of certain failure.
His role in the Arsenal side has often been uncertain and that has only made Walcott’s task harder. Injuries, new signings and his own difficulties maintaining a consistent standard of performance have made him an easy player to drop, while his own desires to play as a central striker have clouded the judgement on his suitability in the side. As a lone striker, Walcott has often been isolated and offers too little to nail the status as first choice. From the wing, his close control, crossing and tendency to drift into the position of a central striker have made him a difficult piece to fit into Arsenal’s often changing, misshapen jigsaw.
This season a number of factors have allowed it all to change for Walcott at the Gunners. Injury to Aaron Ramsey and the loan of Jack Wilshere has stopped Wenger using central midfielders on the right flank and the emergence of Alex Iwobi as one of the world’s best young players has changed the dynamic of the team significantly. Iwobi’s presence enables Wenger to play Alexis Sanchez as the centre forward, while the Nigerian offers additional creativity from the left. Hector Bellerin’s excellence in the final third from right-back allows the right-sided forward to move into central positions, as the Spaniard retains the width and has the technical capabilities to prove a genuine threat.
A result of all of this is that Walcott can play nominally from the right wing, but operate as a striker. He is receiving chances like he was a forward, without the requirement to play with his back to goal and link play as a No. 9 would have to. Having started this season with seven goals in nine Premier League and Champions League appearances, Walcott is on course to far exceed any previous season in his career.
Perhaps he is blooming, or perhaps this is another short spell of top performances, either way this sort of form is long overdue.
Walcott’s early season form is beginning to justify Arsene Wenger’s decision not to invest in Gonzalo Higuain or any other costly, large reputation forwards that were available. Consistency, however, has been the bane of Walcott’s career, while staying fit has been nearly as much of a challenge. The former Southampton man still has a long way to go before he can prove Wenger’s decision correct and even further to go to reach the potential that was so dauntingly cast upon him over ten years ago.