Extremely talented. Super-fast. Endless potential. Those are words that have been used to describe Theo Walcott since his debut season at Arsenal back in 2006-07. With his blistering pace and sound technique, many greats from the game expected Theo to go places.
Current Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola once said,”You would need a pistol to stop him,” in the Arsenal winger’s praise. Arsene Wenger has always had tremendous faith in his abilities, he has always backed his protégé to shine.
However, the 27-year old has so far failed to make most of that immense potential he possesses. Walcott was expected to fill in the giant boots left vacant by Thierry Henry since the start of his Arsenal career, but the expectations and the constant comparisons with the club legend have done no good for Theo, with the pressure weighing him down more often than not.
Long-term injuries, below-par, inconsistent performances and doubts over his best position in the line-up have meant that Walcott never exploded to become the star he was billed to become. In fact, his place at the club was considered to be under threat owing to his unimpressive displays.
But after nine seasons where he had shown signs of promise which culminated in disappointment, this season seems to be different for the diminutive Englishman.
Theo Walcott’s explosive start in the current season
He has started this campaign with a bang scoring five goals in eight Premier League fixtures so far. It took 28 appearances in the previous season for him to score as much and 14 appearances the season before. Add the two goals from the Champions League match against FC Basel and he has 7 in 9 games, two less than his total from last season where he played 42 times in all competitions.
Where was this Theo Walcott for all this time? So what has changed this time around?
Arsenal’s longest-serving player in the current squad, Walcott, had come out in the press time and again, stating that he wanted to play as a centre-forward. But after a disappointing last two seasons when he was given opportunities to play in his preferred position, he decided to go back to his position on the right-side of the attack. “I want to make my position on the right – that’s where I know where I am now,” said Theo during the pre-season this year.
And he has got his wish. With injuries to Aaron Ramsey, who featured heavily on the right last time around, and the lack of form of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott has gotten a string of games this season and he has thrived on the right-flank.
There’s a new-found attitude of resilience in his game as Wenger rightly pointed out in the Gunners’ 3-2 victory against Swansea City over the weekend. “I would cut the ‘little’ bit off in your sentence and just say he’s much more resilient, and not a little bit,” exclaimed the Frenchman quite pleased after Theo’s two-goal show. And he’s right on the money with that statement.
Walcott has never looked better in Arsenal colours. He has been at the center of everything good for Arsenal this season. He plays with much more purpose, there is a sense of aggression in his movement, you can see the desire in his eyes, in the runs he makes and in the positions he takes up in and around the opponents’ box.
And he showed that again at the Emirates against Swansea on Saturday, where he was at the right place at the right time for two occasions and he made the Welsh outfit pay both times. Some might say it was pure luck, but looking at the way he has been playing this season, one has to credit Walcott for the predatory instincts he has been showing in front of goal.
Alexis Sanchez’s role as striker has had an effect on Walcott
One cannot overlook the contribution Alexis Sanchez has had in this sudden upturn in goal-scoring form for Walcott. Playing mostly through the center, the Chilean has formed a wonderful partnership with Walcott this season. Their fine understanding was on display in the Champions League fixture against Basel as Sanchez assisted Theo’s two first-half goals, the expertly executed one-two between them for the second goal particularly standing out.
Wenger’s decision to deploy Alexis as the striker is helping the team look more fluent as a result of the increased movement in attack. Sanchez's movement is leaving space for others to occupy and get into dangerous positions and Walcott has made the most of it. After being criticized for playing the Chilean through the center, it is evident that Wenger’s move is paying off and bringing out the very best in Theo Walcott as well.
With the North Londoners putting in impressive displays one after the other, they look to be on their way to mount a challenge for the Premier League title and come the end of the season, they will be right up there along with the likes of Manchester City and derby rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
After 10 years with Arsenal, Theo Walcott is more than pulling his weight for his team. He is getting himself into the dangerous positions on a consistent basis, he is asking more questions of the opposition’s defences. With the form he is in, he looks like a player who expects to score with every touch.
After a series of disappointing campaigns year after year, Walcott has finally risen from the ashes. And if Arsenal are to be anywhere near the top in May, the Englishman will have a huge role to play.
(Video courtesy: FTHD Productions YouTube channel)