The evolution of Theo Walcott from boy to man in the football arena has been noteworthy. The academy product from Southampton has gone from a bit part player to an indispensable part of Arsene’s starting XI. Having put aside all contractual issues towards the beginning of the year the player is now fully focused on business at hand-ending Arsenal’s trophy drought.One of the fastest players to have ever played in the Premier League Walcott has scorched many a defence with his pace.
The precocious talent of Walcott caught the eye of Wenger early on during his Southampton days. The academy at Southampton has produced some of the most talented players to grace the EPL today including Bale and most recently Luke Shaw. Pacy with a good eye for goal he was hailed as the next Thierry Henry. Arsenal ultimately forked out 5 million pounds plus add ons for the player in the January transfer window of 2006, a gargantuan amount for a 16 year old. The transfer drew a lot of interest from media and fans alike. In fact it drew so much attention that Sven Goran Eriksson took the extraordinary decision to include Theo in the England squad for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Critics and pundits alike were flabbergasted by the move as Walcott had yet to feature in the Arsenal starting XI. He didn’t make an appearance in the World Cup but it turned out to be a good learning curve for him. He finally made his debut in the 2006-2007 season. Arsenal were down a goal against Aston Villa with time running out when Walcott was brought on. His introduction had immediate effect. His electric pace was too much for the Villa defence and was clearly putting them ill at ease.In the dying embers of the game he provided Gilberto Silva with a delightful assist and the Brazilian duly obliged to equalize. The Arsenal faithful had found a new hero to worship. He had an impressive debut season and he won a BBC Sports personality of the Year award as well in 2006. His debut goal came against Chelsea in the League Cup final but it went in vain thanks to a Drogba masterclass.
Theo’s stock continued to rise steadily. The 07-08 season would prove to be a watershed year for the youngster. He scored his first premier league goals as well as providing some classy assists. The one that immediately comes to mind was his assist for Adebayor in the game against Liverpool. Walcott ran nearly the entire length of the Anfield pitch holding off defenders to provide Adebayor with the simplest of finishes. His mazy run won him many plaudits and adulation. Wenger himself believed it was Walcott’s time to shine.
Walcott was handed the iconic Number 14 jersey for the next season and it was as if that acted as a talisman for him as his goals and assists tally started to rise as well. The next few seasons saw him establish a foothold in the Arsenal starting XI. His pace bamboozled many a defender and left them rooted to their spots. Some aspects of his game were still a bit frustrating for Arsenal fans. Though he had pace, the frequent grouse was that he never could never provide that quality final ball, one that could be converted into a goal. His finishing in front of goal also came under close scrutiny and was often erratic. The cross cum shot that he often delivered would frustrate the Arsenal faithful to no end.
He worked very hard on that aspect of his game and has refined it to become a very effective hitman. His final ball too has improved drastically making him a very potent offensive force. The 11/12 season and 12/13 campaign are testament to that. He was Arsenal’s top scorer last season and did well in the assists tally too. Like Henry he is trying to push Wenger into converting him into a more central forward than a winger. That issue led to a protracted contract saga that had Arsenal fans sweating buckets. Ultimately the player pledged his allegiance to the club. His form was crucial in Arsenal securing the fourth and final Champions League spot pipping the old enemy Tottenham Hotspurs to it.
His form in the current pre season has been outstanding so far. Scoring goals in the Asian leg of the tour followed by a man of the match performance in the last friendly versus Manchester City. Walcott scored a delightful chip in that game and provided two assists as Arsenal outclassed the 2012 Champions in Helsinki. His second assist for Giroud was nothing short of spectacular. His ball for the goal was reminiscent of Beckham and his assists in his heyday at United.
Walcott is fully committed to Arsenal and his recent statements are testament to that. It is also noteworthy that Theo is one of the most experienced Arsenal players in the current squad having been at the club since 2006 . He is one of the ‘old hands’ now all at the relatively young age of 24. He also got married recently to his long term girlfriend and so has relatively settled down as a man .He has had his fair share of injury problems and Arsenal fans will be hoping that he is fit for the crucial upcoming season that could be a make or break one for the club and Wenger in particular. If Walcott were to continue under Wenger’s tutelage he could evolve into one of the all time greats. Pace, trickery and instinct he has in plenty. He has also proven to be a valuable asset for the England national team and has scored many important goals for them. His ‘headless chicken’ moments still do feature at times but by and large are very few and far in between. He is now approaching his crucial peak years of being a footballer; one can only hope that his growth curve keeps experiencing this upward spiral. Certainly all Arsenal fans will be hoping for that in the coming years.
Mean Lean's Response
I remember watching Theo Walcott during his early days at Arsenal. During the times when he would run into the full back or leave the ball behind him. I remember thinking to myself and in fact writing that I hoped that Theo Walcott would be able to turn into the player who made the right choices at the right times because technically he was a long way behind his peers at Arsenal. I thought that if Theo could become efficient in his game then his strengths could turn him into one of the most effective players in the league. I think we are starting to see that today.
Walcott's pace is unmatched in this league, but pace is not enough on it's own, what is remarkable is his calmness and finishing in front of goal that goes with his electric pace. I have also noticed more of a variety in his finishing these days whether that be flicking it over or curling past the keeper.
With the amount of creativity we have in our side these days, we will need Theo the outlet more than most. I am hoping that his understanding with Giroud continues to develop. I also look forward to watching his darts inside the full back being spotted and found by Özil and Cazorla. Walcott has started very well this season, even if he hasn't yet to get off the mark and the only thing he needs is consistency over the season.
Should that happen then we will have plenty to cheer about from Theo this season.