Despite being a strong opponent of the January/Winter transfer window, Arsene Wenger during that period in the year 2006 pulled off a piece of business which was hailed and slammed in equal measure by anyone concerned, not different from anything Arsenal in the last few years.
He had signed from the Southampton football club academy, which produces young, talented footballers like Kellogg’s does breakfast cereal, a young, prodigious football player whose pace constantly left many who had seen him play in awe, as they wondered how such a young player could possess such high levels of pace reserved usually for those who partake in the 100 metre race in the Olympic Games.
Theo Walcott is the name of the player Arsenal stole from the claws of other big clubs competing for his services, and in 2006, over a decade ago, many felt coming to Arsenal to work with Arsene Wenger, who had helped shape the careers of many-a-young player, would see to his progression from simply a player with immense pace to burn, to a more rounded one who would add skills and techniques, which would make his pace seem a secondary necessity. Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka, Robin Van Persie, these players amongst a boat-load of other young players, had received the Wenger touch to propel themselves to higher levels.
The belief at the time was that Theo would find himself among that list and prove himself a world beater on the grandest of stages. The Grandest of stages availed itself to a very young Theo, when he was picked to represent England at the World Cup in Germany that year. He ultimately did not play a minute during the tournament, and some feel his inclusion in that tournament simply put him in the spotlight too quickly, thus placing a herculean load on the shoulders of a fresh-faced child mentally for the rest of his career. It seems he never escaped mentally from all the backlash that arose from giving a valuable squad spot to such a youngster who probably did not deserve it and could be a reason albeit minute that he never hit the heights expected of him.
Over a decade, we saw Walcott grow from the fresh-faced youngster rushed too quickly in the national team, to a well-coiffed ‘hair styled’, player who held the club to ransom over a center forward role. He scored several goals, yet he missed many as well. What was difficult to see over his tenure as a Gunner was any clear growth in his style of play. From the moment he joined, up until the last game he played for us, we saw a player who was heavily comfortable with the fact that his pace could have him beat any man, even the best left backs in the world, and for a while this proved true, until the advent of ‘extra-pay’ fullbacks and wingbacks.
Complacency is a huge bane to the progression of anyone in any field and more so an athlete in his chosen field, and Theo showed signs of complacency due to one ‘quality’ of our manager which has hindered the club gravely and severally and can even be seen in many fans, ‘over sentimentality.’ The ultimate aim of football is to fall in love with a club and the players who toil to bring satisfaction to fans worldwide that is undisputable. Yet, when a player or even a member of staff of a football team fails to perform optimally and or improve, over a ‘long’ period of time, ties should be cut for the benefit of both club and player or staff member. This ensures the prevention of stagnation of both club and player or staff member, or in an extreme case regression in fortunes of both.
In Walcott’s case, it is true that he has been a loyal servant of the club, bagging over a century of goals and more than double that in appearances, a rarity for one club nowadays, but it also must said that he stagnated for quite a number of years, with no semblance of sustained improvement in any shape or form. In recent times, beating defenders who could match him for pace became a rare sight, as Walcott had not shown the acquisition of skills or technique you would expect from one who had played for so long. Dribbling, feinting, these and other techniques were not in the repertoire of the man, and with the advent of the ‘extra-pacy’ fullback/wingback Walcott became more or less a dinosaur. His finishing may have been at its most prolific in the 2012-2013 season, when we beat Reading 7-5 in a wild, wild affair in the League Cup, yet barring that, honestly and humbly to any Theo pitchfork wielding fans, Walcott has shown himself to be a one dimensional player. He either beats you with pace and scores or assists occasionally, or he doesn’t offer much else.
I believe this is the right move, maybe three years too late, as Theo just like our manager could have left on the high of the F.A. Cup final in which he scored against Aston Villa, as a new challenge for him under the teachings of a new manager could bode well for him as he aims to make the World Cup squad. Also for Arsenal, it is a good move as it continues what has been the clearing of ‘deadwood’ from the club including Gibbs and Coquelin. This ensures quality replacements can be brought in as well as a chance given to younger players such as Reiss-Nelson who has already shown the dynamism Walcott didn’t even show at his age.
This piece is not to slam on Theo. He has been wonderful to the club, just as the club has been faithful to him, administration and fans, yet this breakup was long overdue, and I can wish nothing but the best of luck to this Gunner Legend on his new journey. And also Arsenal, you better replace him adequately.