Theo Walcott has longed for the chance to have a regular spot as a striker since his arrival at the Emirates in 2006, but Arsene Wenger has continued to frustrate the 23-year old by extending his vexatious time as a wide man.
Walcott blazed onto the scene as a 16-year old at Southampton and was thought to be one of the most galvanising starlets in the country. His swift rise to fame was a result of his 3 goals in his first 3 full games for the Saints, a run which demanded Premier League scouts to get their clipboards out and start keeping tabs on him.
They did just that and after just 21 of his majestic performances that he displayed for Southampton, Arsene Wenger proceeded to live up to his reputation of buying the best young talent from around the globe and promptly snapped up the expeditious front-man for a fee of around £5m, which would soon rise to a reported £9m due to his first team appearances. Because of the money that was splurged, expectations towered over the teen and he was expected to be a serious game-changer despite his lack of experience in professional football.
Walcott had to wait until the start of the 2006/07 Premier League season to get his chance to wow the Arsenal faithful with his unimaginable magnitude of pace, as well as his cool, calm and collected outlook when it came to converting an opportunity when it presented itself. However, because of his blistering speed and his aptitude to beat opponents with it, Arsene Wenger designated him a role on the wing. To begin with, Walcott was unfazed by his new position as he recognised he had a lot to grasp and was just pleased to be playing regularly at such a high level at such a tender age. It also drew comparisons to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, who Walcott is still contrasted to this day. In his first season for the gunners, Walcott participated in 32 games, netting once and assisting 7.
His remarkable expectancy levels are an account of being a shock addition into Sven Goran-Eriksson’s 2006 World Cup squad, where he was chosen ahead of established England and Premier League scorers Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe and Andy Johnson. Despite the selection, Walcott failed to play a single second in the tournament but is, and always has been, predicted to be a stand out performer, which he has not always lived up to.
Theo is now 23 years of age and after 155 first team appearances for Arsenal his personal progression as a player has been hampered by his manager’s reluctance to give him a string of games as the spearhead of his teams attack. Walcott has always voiced his preference to play as a striker, but not one to cause a commotion or involve himself in a rift with his seniors and a genuine lover of playing the game; he has always done what he has been asked. However, as his contract negotiations seemed to have hit a snag because of his desire of forward role, it is time for Wenger to make his mind up.
So, should Walcott get his opportunity?
One thing Walcott has been guilty of during his time on the wing is his inability to deliver a ball. He is currently regarded, along with Stuart Downing, as one of the most frustrating spectacles applying his trade in England’s top division because of his inconsistent quality of crosses and passes into the box. He is often able to get into menacing positions because of his rapidness, but once in those positions he is suspect to say the least.
Another deterrent to his wing-play is his hindrance of beating an opponent with a piece of skill; Walcott just doesn’t have a treasure chest of tricks which leaves him relying on his speed. Although the acceleration he holds could challenge most athletes over 100m, defenders know that he will be trying to knock the ball past them rather than trying a slippery step-over, and this allows them to manoeuvre themselves into a situation which restricts this.
For me, Walcott is, and deserves his shot at being a striker. However, I think he has missed his chance to become the attacking vocal point at his current club and is perhaps time to leave Arsenal. With Robin Van Persie retreating up north to Manchester during the summer, it was a perfect time for Theo to make his ultimatum to Wenger. This didn’t happen, and the Frenchman recruited some of the finest strikers in Europe; Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Although Giroud has not made the best of start at his new clubs, Podolski has taken like a duck to water and has already impressed spectators around the country. His extraordinary partnership he has developed in the early stages of the season with fellow new-signing Santi Cazorla has set the league alight, and has created a vibe of excitement and positivity within the Arsenal fans. Another unfortunate mistiming for Walcott is the excellent run of form from Gervinho, who has smashed in a respectable 5 goals in the first 7 games.
Theo Walcott is far from a finished product, but I believe he has all the essentials to be a top class striker. His pace sets him aside from most in the league and his composure in front of goal is second to none. He may not possess the prowess to be a traditional centre forward but his nimble dexterity and his facility to score from a vast range of shooting opportunities should at least present him the chance. In my opinion (I am not an Arsenal fan) Theo should move on. With only months remaining on his contract and his patience running out, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him making his name as a striker in the not so distant future.
The club Walcott supported as a boy, Liverpool, have expressed their need for a striker to join their ranks recently and I can’t help but wonder, could it be?