The good days have fragmented into tiny pieces. The imperious performances with hat-tricks flying in from left and right seem difficult to put together as one fluid memory. It would have been a lot easier to remember them clearly had the form continued, yet Theo Walcott’s current seasonal slump was to be expected. For all that money the player and his advisors demanded, he really hasn’t grown up. Highest paid at the club and yet still hiding behind the innocence of youth.
It’s the frustration that kicks you more than anything. What if Walcott had taken his talents – and what seemed like weekly hat-tricks – to another part of the country? There’s no South Beach in England for Walcott to speak so highly of, but it’s all relative. Had Arsene Wenger not bit the bullet and offered all kinds of stupid wages to a player whose image outweighs his reputation on the pitch, Arsenal fans might have been looking at a player climbing his way up the scoring charts in the colours of some other team.
Some fancied him as something of a saviour to Arsenal at the time. For all his modesty I’m sure even he knew that his exploits in front of goal was the injection of hope Arsenal needed at the time. There was the Steve Bould Effect which last about 15 minutes, then it all went south, and finally Walcott emerged off the substitutes bench a matured and hungry footballer who had at last caught up with the hype that was initially miles in front.
Fair play to Walcott, though. He didn’t just decide to sit back and pack on the pounds as if all the hard work had been done. He put together a nice little run that offered the impression that he was indeed the real deal and that the contract was just a formality; massive pay hike or not, this was finally the season that Walcott became an adult and started to justify the 14 on the back of his shirt.
Well it’s too easy. Some of the blame can be attributed to the defeatist mentality created at the club, while there could be a case to be made that Walcott really isn’t that good. Well I’m not buying the latter. Gervinho isn’t that good. He fooled plenty of us into thinking he was the perfect alternative to Olivier Giroud at centre-forward when he banged in a handful of goals against Southampton, Chelsea and some French no-name club. Excuse me, Montpellier, the French champions.
But Walcott has a lot more about him than that. As well as the innocence of his youth, the player also needs to stop hiding behind the assumption that he makes the best decisions when he isn’t thinking about it, as if someone as well-spoken as him can’t decipher the difference between a smart play and something wholly ridiculous when given more than two seconds to think about it.
You’ve got to believe that somewhere in the next two years or so, after Arsenal continue to call the season quits sometime between November and February, that Walcott will come forward as the latest big name player to express his concern at the direction of the club. No trophies and no ambition; it’s simply not good enough for a player with as much desire to be a champion as him. It won’t ever be the player’s fault, though. The club, perhaps against their will, offered Walcott staggering wages and a sense of hope that he would maintain the level of performance that warranted something in or around six figures every week.
At which point do the club say, hang on, you haven’t exactly held up your end of the bargain? We paid you all the riches you were apparently worth, and since then the Theo of old has returned and the goal-hungry forward has gone in for a nap. It’s not good enough, and now once again the player is injured due to a meaningless international break (don’t tell me a World Cup qualifier is important – they’re all meaningless).
At 24, we’re more than at the stage where many should expect Walcott to change games on his own, so you sort of have to get on his back about it. You start to demand something from him every week not just because of the contract but because you know he’s capable of it. His pace is devastating, his finishing is among the best at Arsenal, and he is someone who genuinely frightens opposition defences.
The work rate needs to be there, as well as an attitude that puts aside his calm, quiet demeanour until after the final whistle. If the excuse is that he simply hasn’t had the service to be productive, then surely he’s only worth about a quarter of his current wages, because waiting for service and doing little else doesn’t really bring in the kind of money he’s on.
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