Theo Walcott is a controversial figure. It would be fair to say that he has few admirers in the Emirates, and even fewer outside of it. But as he begins to reach an age where people will be genuinely expectant of a change in form has Walcott done anything to prove people wrong?
Signed from Southampton in 2006 great things were expected of the lightening quick forward and for many he has failed to live up to the, perhaps unreasonably high, expectations. However, if we try to ignore the negative press that surrounds him, can we see just how far he has come from the unproven seventeen year old who was taken to the World Cup?
Vast improvements since he signed for Arsenal
The Arsenal forward has come a long way since his first goal for Arsenal, a precise finish in the 2007 League Cup final. And, despite what many think, Walcott has made clear improvements since his highly scrutinised arrival at the club. Even though he has not been guaranteed a starting place in the Arsenal fist team and has had a series of serious injuries, just when he appeared to be gaining form, he has come back from all of his set backs stronger and last season his tally of thirteen goals and eight assists in only twenty five starts is something to be praised.
Big game player
Many will disagree with this but hear me out before you criticise. Walcott has a surprising knack of turning up when it really counts. For example his first goal came in the League Cup final in 2007. He has also performed well extremely well in Arsenal’s recent meetings with Barcelona.
In the first leg in 2010 Walcott came on, scored a goal and then provided the cross which lead to Arsenal’s penalty and second goal leading Guardiola to praise Walcott’s “quality” and “pace” (BBC). In the second leg he then provided the assist for Bendtner’s goal. In the first leg in 2011 he also played exceptionally and was a constant threat to the opposition.
When Arsenal hosted Chelsea last season Walcott scored and provided an assist to leave the Gunners 3-1 winners. In last season’s north London derby Walcott opened the scoring at White Hart Lane with an excellent one-on-one finish and he also provided the cross that Van Persie scored from to make it 3-1.
Even though this season has only just begun Walcott has already been proving his pedigree in important matches. As Arsenal prepared for their Champions League qualifier many fans and pundits were dismissing Arsenal’s chances, saying that they would crumble without their departed stars. It was a moment where other squad players would have to step up to the plate. So who was it that scored in both legs to put Arsenal through to the group stages? That’s right, Theo Walcott.
It is not just his goal scoring that has improved either. Walcott’s passing has improved dramatically in big games. Take for example his perfectly timed assist for Van Persie’s opener on a difficult night against the German champions Dortmund.
Moreover, you have to consider the fact that, unlike many top players, Walcott has proven that he can be effective at any level whether it is in the Premier League, the Champions League or at International level as he did with his hat trick against Croatia. Many will ask what he has done since that night in Zagreb for the national team but there is evidence that his performances are getting better with every game as he begins to gel with his international team mates. We only need to look at the last Montenegro game for proof of this as he got the assist for the first goal.
Playing out of position
It seems an obvious point to make but, ultimately, Theo is not a winger. He spent his pre-Arsenal life as a centre forward and, although Wenger has not used him as such so far, Arsenal fans will hope to see him there in the future.
If you think about Walcott’s best qualities: his pace, his one-on-one finishing and his movement then those are all ideal qualities for a striker. The problem he has is that he would play much better as one of a striking pair in a 4-4-2. That way his relatively small size would not matter as it would in a 4-3-3. However neither England nor Arsenal is willing to adopt this formation and subsequently Walcott is not being used to his potential.
I’m not denying that Walcott has faults. Of course he does: he is horrendously inconsistent, his choice of short passes can often be baffling and he is incapable of playing with flair. But, we must remember that despite the fact that it seems as though Walcott has been around forever, he is still only twenty-two. All footballers develop at different times. Michael Owen started strong as a teenager before his career tailed off. Thierry Henry on the other hand didn’t reach any kind of recognisable form until he was twenty-three; incidentally this change of form that was inspired by a move from the wing to a striking position.
I’m not saying that Walcott would make it in to a lot of top teams around the world, or that he will ever be the best player in the world. What I would say though is that he is still only young and should not be so heavily criticised at such an early stage. Confidence is his major problem and he will never develop into the player he could be for Arsenal and England if he does not get the support he needs.
I’d like to leave it with words from the world’s best player Lionel Messi: “I can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against.” (Telegraph, 14/02/11)
If you disagree with this or just fancy chatting about football follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay and I’ll be happy to debate the issue further.