Last night’s game at the Emirates is without a doubt my nomination for the worst game of the season so far. It was scrappy, uninspiring and extremely frustrating at times as both teams tried, in vein, to gain some sort of momentum, only to give the ball straight back to their opposition. Eventually Abou Diaby’s goal in the second half was enough to separate the two teams and, due to results elsewhere, potentially put Arsenal back in the title race.
One thing I was very surprised at was the amount of noise in the Stadium. After hearing so much about how quiet the Emirates can be I was fairly impressed with the enthusiasm shown by the fans on a night when it was so painfully cold that I, for one, could not even whisper, let alone shout. It was also a great surprise to hear a number of people around me voicing their opinion towards young Theo Walcott. Personally I thought he would be loved at the club and seen as the next Henry to carry the club to great things but, unless I was sat in the ‘anti Theo’ section, it seems the patience of the Arsenal faithful is beginning to wane.
Walcott has started just 5 games in the 2009/2010 season. Ok, he has suffered from a string of injuries and understandably might be lacking a considerable amount of match practice but Wenger would not have him in the squad if he wasn’t fit enough. Against Chelsea he seemed a step off the pace and was put back on the bench for last night’s encounter. When Samir Nasri pulled up with an early injury it was Rosicky, not Walcott, that Wenger opted for to replace him. Not until mid-way through the second half did Wenger choose to put Walcott on, although somewhat reluctantly due to another injury, this time to Arshavin. What difference a year can make.
In September 2008, Walcott had the world at his feet. He had just scored his first international hat-trick in a 4-1 demolition of Croatia in Zagreb. Many people saw that as proof that this boy was now ready to become a man and challenge the World with both Arsenal and England. His performances after that were good but this season he has failed to show any sort of promise. It is widely believed that Fabio Capello is reluctant to select any player who is not fully fit or on form. At the moment, Walcott is very much battling for a place in England’s squad for South Africa.
One year ago he would have been seen as not only a certainty but also a player who could have a huge impact on the success of the national team. Now, with just a matter of months to go, he has it all to do to prove his worth.
The problem is that, similarly to Michael Owen, Walcott might not have the chance to prove himself too often. He showed very little in his time on the pitch last night to suggest that he should start in next week’s Champions League game or in any of the games until the end of the season. After all, with Arsenal in with a slim chance, Wenger is in no place to risk playing him over say, Rosicky, if he is not going to perform. His saving grace may be the length of the injuries sustained by Arshavin and Nasri, the two players who would have kept Walcott on the bench.
There is no doubt Walcott has the potential to achieve great things but for the first time in his short career, young Theo will have to prove himself under a considerable amount of pressure. The time has passed now where fans see him as young, naive and with a lot of potential. It is now time for him to start producing performances every week and with his World Cup dream on the line, it is time to see if the boy can become a man. The big question is; will he be on the plane to South Africa?