Theo Walcott: The nearly man's legacy at Arsenal analysed
Illustrious would be too generous, unfulfilling perhaps too harsh; in trying to sum up Theo Walcott's twelve-year tenure at Arsenal, one could do worse than settle on 'epitomic' as the best description.
The Englishman's promising ascents and disappointing collapses aligned with the fluctuating fortunes of Wenger's side and there are now multiple questions hanging over what legacy the 28-year-old has left at the Emirates.
Injured or fit, excelling or flagging, Walcott had been a presence that could not be forgotten at Arsenal, since inheriting the symbolic weight of the number fourteen shirt from the legendary front-man Thierry Henry.
However highly one rates Theo and his time at Arsenal, the seemingly undeniable truth is that he needed a move to reignite his career and a £20 million switch to Everton has proven the ultimate fit.
Despite never reaching the unparalleled marker left by Arsenal's former number fourteen, Walcott did surpass Henry in terms of appearances for the North London side. Since making his club debut in August 2006 at the age of 17 years and five months, the former-Saints forward has made 397 appearances for the club.
During his tenure, Walcott has scored 108 goals and made a remarkable 78 assists, reinforcing his image as a clinical, yet wholly unselfish player. This leaves the 28-year-old with an average of 0.27 goals scored per game, by no means humiliating but a figure which could, and should, have been better.
Across his most recent five full seasons, Walcott also maintained an average 63% shot accuracy and created 95 chances. These are all impressive figures given that injury plagued both the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons for the Englishman, limiting him to a mere 27 appearance across the two campaigns combined.
If it's not his blistering pace or loyalty to the club which characterises Walcott's career with the Gunners, it has to be his contagiously professional and friendly attitude to the game as a whole. Fans and players alike were quick to hail Theo as one of the most industrious figures in the modern game, with the likes of his English counterpart Rob Holding claiming he's, "never met someone as hard working and professional" on his official Instagram social media account.
In a recent report published by The Times, it is outlined that Walcott identified a clash in opinions between himself and manager Arsene Wenger prior to a Premier League game with Crystal Palace as a turning point in his Arsenal future. The report stated that the club's captain for the encounter had claimed in his post-match interview that, "[Palace] wanted it more. You could sense that from kick-off".
Moments like this both reinforced the difference in the respective approaches of Wenger and Walcott but also emphasised a sense of stagnation on the Englishman's part. It would be fundamentally wrong of anyone, including Wenger, to scrutinise Walcott's team morale and work ethic, with his insistence to create chances more often than score them a prime example of the focus he places on teamwork over individual merit.
When questioned why he decided to make the move, Walcott claimed, as reported by BBC Sport, "I want to reignite my career and push Everton to win things as they have done before." These are the hallmark comments of a player on the move, but there was more gravity to Theo's words than the average player moving on.
Ultimately, Walcott and Arsenal no longer seem to match. The club is frequently lambasted for back-peddling, not least for the inability to hold onto top players, whilst individuals like Walcott want progression and it's this hunger and desire to improve in the face of adversity which polarises the two camps and best epitomises Walcott's personality.
With these ideas taken into consideration, Arsenal fans find themselves with the impossible task of pinpointing exactly what legacy Walcott will be leaving behind as he switches life in London for the blue half of Merseyside.
The fact of the matter is Theo Walcott's career was stunted the moment it began. The baby-faced revelation that he was deemed, being snapped up by giants of English football Arsenal at the age of sixteen, only to then be selected in Sven-Göran Eriksson's 2006 World Cup squad, the expectations were always insurmountable.
One of the most ridiculous aspects of Walcott's early career was the incessant link made between the now 28-year-old and the aforementioned Thierry Henry, on the basis of a shirt number. Given the right coaching and timing, Theo may very well have emulated such successes as the Frenchman but their playing styles remain strikingly different.
Walcott's style is defined by relentless pace and an energy to move the ball forward at any given opportunity, whilst also seeking out the best through-balls or crosses. Comparatively, Henry was a goalscorer with greatly superior ball control and composure in the final third. Consequently, the English front-man was likened to a player he could simply never reach the level of with such comparisons being drawn.
In the latter stages of his career, it seemed to become a case of falling out of favour with Arsene Wenger, whose decision to alter Arsenal's tactical set-up to a 3-4-3 formation proved to be the final nail in the coffin. It should have been a system well suited to Theo's pace and ability down the flank. However, with full-backs occupying the deeper wide roles and a carousel of Sanchez, Özil, Iwobi and Welbeck playing in the wide forward positions, there seemed to be less of a need for Walcott in Wenger's mind.
Ultimately, it seems to have always been a case of poor timing as far as Walcott's career goes. The Englishman was implemented too quickly into the highest level of the game and, perhaps rather uncharacteristically of the football community, there was an immediate expectation to impress.
If Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry epitomise eras whereby Arsene Wenger was at the top of his game in terms of recruitment and development, Theo's legacy marks the transition from then to an era where the Frenchman is struggling to keep his head above water. Theo will forever be the nearly man of Arsenal football club who could have developed into so much more had he had better support around him for the most-part of his steady tenure.