It was almost scripted but still incredible the way Theo Walcott tore up the ground at the San Siro in 2008 as he assisted in Arsenal’s second goal of the night. On that occasion, it was Emmanuel Adebayor who benefited from Walcott’s ability to stun AC Milan. But Robin van Persie’s many goals last season only added weight to the notion that Theo Walcott is an invaluable asset at the club.
Most will never be pleased with Theo Walcott’s rate of development, and even more will suggest that he’s nowhere near to being a player worth the reported £100,000 contract he’s after. But there is a lot of worth that Arsenal can place in Walcott already, despite him not turning into a re-imagining of Thierry Henry at the club.
It’s not just his height and build that keeps him away from taking up the central striking role at Arsenal, as Walcott has never shown an ability to be consistent in front of goal. But it would be a huge loss if Arsenal were to cut their ties with the player and allow a 23-year-old speedster to depart the club.
Arsenal’s natural game hardly allows for players like Walcott to thrive with such little space to run into. Home games such as against Sunderland see Arsenal given plenty of possession but the necessity to find holes in the opposition defence. Player like Walcott will stretch the defence and it is a big plus to have. But he’s not a natural winger who has the confidence and trickery to beat a full-back.
Games such as AC Milan away in 2008 and against Barcelona and Chelsea are ones where Walcott thrives. The attacking nature of the opposition allow for Arsenal to launch counter attacks through Walcott’s pace and his ability to find a target just in front of the goal mouth—something which he is improving at a very good rate.
But the inconsistencies to his game means many will prefer to simply wave off that potential and threat if it brings in a fee around £20 million. But with a player like Walcott in the side, opposition teams will always be fearful of what he’s capable of.
Arsene Wenger has also made mistakes in the past by not using Walcott’s strengths to push relentless opposition attacks away. Walcott has often been substituted for a more defensive option in order to see out the last 10 or 15-minutes of a game. But the player’s presence forces teams to rethink their desire to throw everyone forward and offers Arsenal an outlet to escape and grab a goal on the counter.
I’m not in favour of Arsenal giving the player a huge pay rise because I’ve seen little in his performances to suggest he warrants it. However, players with his abilities can be invaluable and thus worth the added weight of a contract.
For Arsenal, it’s also a case of keeping face in the transfer market and not being seen to give in to the demands of want-away players. Walcott may find a contract more suited to his needs elsewhere, but that’s because other clubs will find a use for his almost unrivalled pace.
I don’t believe Walcott has the confidence or physical attributes to be the lone striker in this Arsenal team, but he can be used there when it’s needed. Games that are end-to-end and that will be stretched do give Walcott a platform to become a good source of goals to the team through the middle. However, he does need to form a good run of games where he finds the net. There’s little use in regularly being put through on goal but not justifying his place by missing good opportunities.
Arsenal may come to the conclusion that a player with Walcott’s limitations is not worth handing out a contract that makes him one of the highest paid at the club, but that would be looking at the situation from only one angle. The good in his game far outweigh the bad, and with continued development of his strengths, Walcott can be one of the difference makers in this new-look Arsenal side.