The Arsenal have, over the decades been blessed with players of tremendous skill, fight, and most importantly, the will to learn and be better than they initially were. We always mention Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Viera, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Tony Adams and a select few when the topic of the greatest players to have ever worn the red and white is brought up. One thing that set them apart from their peers was the hankering to be better than anyone else, the need to distinguish themselves from others players of similar ilk, the craving to improve, from season to season without stagnating in the same cesspool of mediocrity.
This brings us to the main reason behind this think-piece, Theo James Walcott. He splits the opinion of the Arsenal fandom right down the middle like a hot knife would through butter.
He joined Arsenal, from Southampton in 2006, during the Winter transfer market, with many of us hoping he would evolve into the certain heir of one Titi Henry, who had led the team magnificently that year to a Parisian UEFA Champions League Final against Barcelona, where we went toe to toe against what was the inception of the greatest team of this generation, albeit with ten men, for a huge swathe of the game, but who was on the verge of leaving us, for pastures anew.
I have for many years been in the camp of Gunners who defend Theo Walcott no matter what form he found himself in at a point in time. I would defend him when he missed a sitter, I would defend him when he run himself into trouble against tough defenders, I would defend him when it was apparent he lacked certain skills necessary for a modern day winger o thrive in this speedy, dribble-filled, moment-of-magic era of football. Then came the contract talk wrangling. It was similar to the RVP scenario in the sense that, the club had stuck by the player during large periods where injury had robbed us from enjoying his services, and when it was time for the player to return that goodwill by re-signing, he had conditions he wanted fulfilled before he re-signed. RVP to an extent was understandable; he was club captain and was also on the periphery of the most elite players at the time, thus was in a better position to make certain demands of the club, but even then, it was wrong. Now, take Theo Walcott, coming back from an injury (as always), in the patchiest of forms, and allowing his contract run down whilst he fought for the right to be played at center forward, when he had not even shown the winger’s role was one he could perform in at the highest level.
At that point, I began to have second thoughts about Theo. Was he here to help the club attain it’s goals by playing wherever the manager thought he could to the best of his abilities, or was he here to accomplish childhood dreams of playing as a centre forward for a huge club?
I will not lie, I was happy he re-signed, because his lightning fast pace is of enormous help, and gives us a different dimension, but if it was all about pace, Usain Bolt would be plying his trade for the guys from Manchester whose Dutch Manager throws huge sums of money at any problem he finds himself in. But no. The pace should be your major weapon in your Arsenal (no pun intended), whilst relying on other weapons to bail you out when necessary. Theo Walcott finds it difficult to beat defenders one-on-one because he lacks dribbling ability. The way Joel Campbell can drop his shoulders and beat a man, the way Oxlade Chamberlain can feint or even bulldoze his way past 2 or 3 men, and these are player who have valid claims to usurp Theo to a starting role. Walcott just doesn’t have that in his Arsenal (sigh. No pun intended). Nowadays, fullbacks are being churned out in the ilk of Hector Bellerin, with pace and creative abilities to match, thus, Walcott cannot expect to fly past each and every opponent he comes up against in the wide role. You need an amount of vivacity and skill to beat your man. You need certain adroitness with which to beat your man.
Walcott is recognized as the second senior centre forward in the club, after Olivier Giroud. Early on in the season, when Oli was injured, Theo was a capable deputy. But now, during the crunch of the season, when the grind matters the most, you just sense an ineptitude to handle the challenge of starting for a side MEANT to be challenging for the title. He just does not seem to be at the races. He seems noncommittal to the seriousness of the challenge at hand and our need to win this title at all costs, for the sake of the millions of Gunners worldwide, who always stick their necks out for the players of this Great club who find new ways to let us down from time to time.
The guy Theo Walcott was meant to replace in terms of authority and work output, Thierry Henry, recently alluded to the fact that this crop of Arsenal players lacked the mental fortitude to win the Premier League title. You stay at a club for ten whole years, win two major titles or so during that run and when there is a huge chance to write your name in the history books by winning something really grand, you shirk your role as a leader, your responsibility to improve and perform at the highest of standards for the fans?
This is not a piece aiming to attack Theo mind you. It is a piece trying to reach a man who is the longest serving player at the club currently, a player who played with some of the Invincibles thus should know what it means to be revered by these great fans and he should be able to rally the troops to play above and beyond themselves to fight with the last drops of blood they have in their veins. We supported Theo during his lean spells and even when he was demanding things of the club when he should not have, now it is our turn to do the demanding.