I remember very well when he signed, I remember his first appearance and I also have some exceptional memories involving the former Southampton man, however it was impossible for me to believe that ten years passed by, already.
When a player celebrates ten years at the same Club, usually he has already acquired a status of legend, key player or at least first-team regular: Theo Walcott is far from this status these days.
This prompted me to ask myself some questions, to try and understand the reasons behind this very long marriage in which neither of the parties seems totally satisfied.
Theo Walcott arrived as a promising 16-years old striker, whose lighting pace and intelligent movement caught the eye of many scouts; we waited seven months to finally see him on the pitch and when he assisted Gilberto Silva for the equaliser against Aston Villa, signs of premature excitement were already visible; then came another assist during his Champions League debut and the excitement became impossible to hide; when he scored the opening goal against Chelsea in the league cup final against Chelsea, it was madness.
The following season came the brace against Birmingham City during the 2-2 draw at St. Andrew’s, remembered for Eduardo’s broken ankle, William Gallas’ sulking act and the burying of our hopes to win the league; then a nice assist to seal a memorable win at San Siro, and finally the amazing run against Liverpool in the Champions League.
It was clear that we had something special on our hands.
Theo Walcott was able to produce moments of great brilliance, even if he was never very consistent; his first touch was often heavy, he used to rush his finishing and was not overly gifted but he could change a game – and he was so young!
Give the young fella a few years and he’ll be a world-beater, people said.
Today, his first touch is still heavy and he has virtually zero skills at his disposal to beat his opponent, bar the pace; his finishing is definitely better but, at 27 years of age, Theo Walcott hasn’t become the world-beater he was destined to be; he inherited the iconic #14 from Thierry Henry, the player he was mostly compared to, but injuries and some tactical misunderstandings hampered his journey to greatness.
We have a very nice guy, a loyal player and a potentially lethal striker (he’s still only 27 years old, after all…) in our squad, it’s easy to understand why Arsène Wenger worked so hard to keep him at the Club.
Something more complicated to understand is why Theo Walcott is one of the top earners at the Club: not a key player and not a leader, the striker somehow managed to get better contracts compared to Mikel Arteta, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Olivier Giroud, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere: even today, Theo Walcott is believed to come third behind Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and on par with Petr Čech, in the list of the highest-paid players at the Club.
If you compare Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Özil and Petr Čech’s careers and ability to Theo’s, something doesn’t sit right.
Fair play to his agent for having persuaded Arsène Wenger to open the Arsenal wallet, he did a great job; he surely had very lucrative offers on the table but it is still surprising to see how these deals went through while Cesc Fàbregas, Robin van Persie and others were allowed to leave.
I must say that Theo Walcott behaved very well and was always very professional during the heated days of his two renewals, avoiding any trick question from journalists and opting for a very low-profile attitude towards the fans and the media.
He kept playing and didn’t talk very much, which is a sign of great respect and intelligence – in my opinion.
Yet, this doesn’t explain how Theo Walcott managed to stay at the Club for so long.
Not that I hope he leaves, because I believe he will eventually become a great striker, but he’s not a key player and we’ll never know if he would have stayed for a smallet payday. He stayed loyal but got a lot of money, so it’s hard to tell.
My final question is: will he ever have the chance to impose himself, considering the very high regard Arsène Wenger has for him?
In his early days, Theo Walcott often claimed to be a striker more than a winger and the manager was aligned to that – only to regularly play him at right wing; I understand it is part of the developing plan for this young player but Theo Walcott is still playing wide, ten years after joining the team as a striker.
He had very short spells upfront – and often did quite well – but he’s not the first choice striker at the Club and it doesn’t depend on Olivier Giroud performances only: this team is built to have a target man upfront and plenty of runners behind him, ready to bomb forward to collect his flicked passes –
Theo Walcott cannot be that kind of striker.
In order to exploit his strength, the team would need to be more aggressive and play much higher on the pitch, to put pressure on opponents early on and win the ball in very dangerous positions; this way, Mesut Özil and other midfielders would be able to pick Theo Walcott runs with the defensive line unsettled.
Alternatively, we could opt for a very conservative approach and invite pressure from the opponents to finally catch them on the counter; with the opposite defensive line moving forward on the pitch to support the attack, Theo Walcott would have plenty of spaces to run in behind and use his pace to make the difference. Again, this is not how the team usually plays.
I don’t know what Arsène Wenger’s long-term plan is, but I am sure it involves Theo Walcott heavily; otherwise I do not see any reason for the considerable amount the Club has invested in him so far.
Come what may but Theo Walcott’s testimonial could be one of the most awkward I’ve ever seen.