Help! I still believe in Theo Walcott. I can’t be the only one.
The Google search ‘Is Walcott any good?’ brings up three separate Guardian articles ranging from April 2015 to February of this year. The fourth suggestion is a Telegraph piece headlined ‘Theo Walcott remains the great Arsenal mystery’. The Walcott wrangle has been ambling along for the best part of five years but has come to head – along with many Gunners’ frustrations – in the last eighteen months. The guy was adored by Arsenal supporters for gesturing a 2-0 scoreline to Tottenham fans when stretchered off in 2014, but is now the target of consistent lambasting.
Walcott’s one of those players whose bad games are really obvious. I’m sure Alexis Sanchez has bad games – likewise playmakers Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey – but it’s hard to remember what they look like. By contrast, we all know exactly what a Walcott bad game looks like; he’ll run into defenders and fluff one-on-ones by firing tamely at the goalkeepers’ legs. He’s done the latter enough times to at least deserve a little criticism.
He’s not alone with this trait of having really obvious bad games. It’s not uncommon in centre forwards – along with centre halves – and I can recall the likes of Christian Benteke, Andy Carroll and post-prime Fernando Torres having genuine nightmares.
Walcott is a player who’s good in patches of form and there are plenty of contributing factors; he’s been on and off the treatment table, in and out the England squad and up and down the touchline waiting for substitute appearances. The injuries have taken their toll – not least on his frightening pace – and he’s struggled to reinvent himself stuck between a forward and a winger.
For whatever reason, he’s now under the microscope. But, hey, Gooners, what about the good times?
One of my favourite – but simultaneously least favourite – Walcott moments came against my precious Liverpool in 2008. In what was a memorable all-English Champions League quarter-final, Walcott broke on the counter following a Liverpool cross. I remember spotting the danger but what Theo did next was superb. He carried the ball at speed the full length of the pitch before laying on Emmanuel Adebayor for a crucial equalizer.
A few years in the first team followed – Walcott’s not Jack Wilshere, he has racked up 240 league appearances – before he seemed to hit his stride in 2012. He played 32 Premier League games finding the net 14 times. Additionally, he picked up 12 assists to total a contribution in 26 Arsenal goals. He bagged a hatrick in a 7-3 win over Newcastle and scored a great third goal. Drifting in menacingly from the left wing, Walcott darted between two defenders and was cut off by a reckless Gael Obertan leg – a clear penalty. The referee delayed the call and Walcott floated through the challenge, bounced up off the ground, and then, just metres from the near post, beat Tim Krul with a clever chip.
There was also that hatrick vs. Croatia in 2008 – the most obvious explosion of potential in Walcott’s career. His England calling seems to have been put on hold for now with new options, new Walcotts, preferred for the time being.
Walcott’s preference for the central striker role has being a sticking point over the last few years. Much of this is to do with his size and physical presence. The little, quick centre forward is dead in the water. Would Michael Owen make it through the Liverpool academy today? No chance. He’d be shifted out wide in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 and called a ‘left winger’ or ‘inside forward’. The little man down the middle doesn’t exist in England. Javier Hernandez never stood a chance of earning a starting place at Manchester United. Jermaine Defoe is still making it work, but perhaps he is the last flag-bearer for speedy goal-getters. The trend is for big, effective ‘number 9s’ or, if you’re a radical thinker, no out-and-out centre forward at all.
I like Walcott and his playing style. His technical progression has been slower than most expected but, on occasion, you’d be forgiven for thinking he is a natural finisher. It’s unfair to chalk Walcott up as another player mishandled by Arsene Wenger but a move away would likely do him good.
He won’t leave though. He likes Arsenal and wants to be successful. He also has a ridiculous paycheck which, unfortunately, is a sure fire way to irritate the Emirates regulars.
Nevertheless, he seems like a good guy and is more level-headed than some players thrown into the media eye in their teenage years. I don’t like scapegoating and I’m going to continue celebrating Walcott goals. I hope he scores the winner at White Hart Lane and runs down the touchline shushing the stands with a finger on his lips. This time his target won’t be the Spurs fans. He’ll be silencing the red and white boo-boys.