Originally Posted in the Gooner Fanzine.
Think of Theo Walcott and an image of a fresh faced youngster eager to do well flashes in your mind. Racing down the right flank and terrorising his opposing full-back, providing ample threat and rapier pace. This jet-heeled youngster gave nightmares to a Barcelona team that blew a continent away.
This young man is now 26.
At the time of writing, the man who joined Arsenal as a 16 year old is negotiating a new contract, as his current deal ( which also featured drawn out mediation ) ends in 2016. Wenger, normally tight-lipped on such matters, stated that – “Walcott was difficult to convince [last time] and that’s why it took us much time. We started very early with him but it was slow progress. He is very quick on the pitch but off the pitch not always.” Reading between the lines gives you a distinct feeling of frustration from Arsene, especially given Theo’s sporadic appearance record since his last pay deal.
Theo is now in the peak of his career and as of yet, has not scaled enough height to hold down a regular club spot, nevermind regular international starting slots. Since his debut in the inaugural year of The Emirates Stadium in 2006, Theo has had so many bites at the cherry to maintain a place in Arsene’s teamsheet, the fruit bowl is near empty. Season after season – fans are treated to displays that provide a montage of possibility if our number 14 were to avoid injury. Teams unable to answer the questions posed by his lightning quick speed ( which as his teammates maintain, hasn’t dulled with his numerous fitness woes ) and his often underrated technique which allows him to combine his pace with quick reactions and ever-improving finishing. When his body has those rare moments when the blight of injury isn’t casting a shadow and he has confidence billowing his sails – Theo Walcott can be unstoppable. Hell, even Pep Guardiola said you would need a pistol to stop him.
Maybe not a gun Pep – more like a surgeons knife.
We are still waiting, nine years since he made his debut, for Walcott to fully utlilse the suitcases of potential and talent he has. Thierry – Le King – took him under his wing and taught him the tricks of the trade. He has had the steadfast backing of his Gaffer. He has had everything put in place for him to enable the flowering of a footballing genius. Still, aside from the one season where he had a near injury free run ( 2012/13, where he bagged 21 goals from 43 apps ), he has continually flattered to deceive.
Now fan unrest is building. Much like the 2011/12 5-2 victory over spurs ( you know, the first time we beat them 5-2 ), Gooners who were patient have now started to ask questions. To vocalise their disharmony. During the first half of the aforementioned spud mashing, a Theo who was low in confidence provided miss after miss to further exacerbate fans who were already rather miffed at yet another underachieving season. Fans saw a scapegoat and Theo heaped the pressure on his slim and rather weak shoulders.
Whatever Wenger said to Theo at half-time could be bottled and sold as snake-oil, for Theo was transformed. He led our stunted neighbours on a merry dance and once more, gave fans a preview of what he was capable of.
Some saw this as the turning point of his career. Unfortunately, the injury jinx hit him once more and – combining last season and this – has made just 20 apps.
What may prove the crux of whether he stays at Arsenal or leaves is the fact he has chosen to negotiate new terms when he has scant reason to insert demands of any kind. Fans have taken umbrage with this and even Martin Keown has stated that Theo has done nothing to earn a new contract.
Some will lay the blame at Lady Luck. Walcott’s last knee injury which made him Diaby’s playpal for a year was simple bad luck. This is fact, but the same goes for Diaby, Wilshere and any other player who cannot resume the level they once had after a shocking injury.
At what point does the club pull the cord on a player? Luckily for Theo, he resides at a club with traditions and values. Also, he has shown enough tantalising glimpses to warrant support. Will his talent come to fruition though? Will all the time, energy, money and devotion spent on him finally reap the dividends we can all picture?
Theo is eye-wateringly close to becoming a player that draws gasps when in motion. He is butt-clenchingly close to finally being the player that teams fear to see on the team-sheet. Theo Walcott, for good reason, still has Wenger’s backing as he has every single ingredient needed to become not only an Arsenal Great, but a Premier League Great.
Everything but fitness.
Theo is 26 now. He is no longer the teenager who was included as an unused wildcard in an England squad, nor is he the one-trick pony that is sent on in the last fifteen minutes to wear down already tired legs. It isn’t too harsh to say it is high time for him to step up to the plate.
A message from Gooners everywhere Theo. Put down the contract pen and pick up the weights in the gym. Spend more time working on the one weakness you have so you can finally become what we all can see. Aaron Ramsey can show you the way.