In his 11 years at Arsenal Football Club, I have often found myself defending Theo Walcott. At times I wondered why I was doing it, at other times my defence was justified. But it now feels his time at Arsenal is running out. That it has come to a natural end.
Walcott joined Arsenal on 20 January 2006 in a deal worth £5m upfront, rising to £12m with add-ons. The deal only actually ended up costing Arsenal £9.1m. Walcott was just 16 and it would not be until March that he could sign a professional deal.
In the 2nd half of the 2006 season, Walcott was not seen of. He was put away tpo train, to grow, for 6 months. A smart idea after all the hype and expectation that followed him after such a big money move from Southampton.
Things changed for Walcott in May 2006 when he was surprisingly named in Sven-Göran Eriksson’s squad for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. He became England’s youngest ever senior player before he had even made an appearance for Arsenal. And the British media went into overdrive, doing what they do best, building him up to knock him down, all for advertising revenue and clicks.
Despite being one of only two fully fit strikers in the England squad (the other being Peter Crouch), he did not play during the tournament.
Over the next season, Walcott became part of Arsene Wenger’s first team plans, often making an impact coming off the bench to show his lightening pace. At the same time, for England, he had been dropped down to the U21s.
Despite barely playing for Arsenal or England, Walcott’s won BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award at the end of 2006. More pressure on the shoulders of someone who had not achieved much.
An early career highlight came in 2007 when he scored against Chelsea in the League Cup Final to see Arsenal go 1-up. Ultimately Arsenal lost 2-1
Just as it looked to be going well for Walcott, it went wrong. Persistent shoulder injuries limited his performances, and would result in him having surgery to put pins in both shoulders.
Over the next 3 years he would struggle for form and fitness. He would get over played and was getting picked for both the England senior and U21 team. He was selected for the Euro U21s in both 2007 (when he would become the youngest player ever to score for the England under-21 team) and 2009.
Wenger complained that Walcott’s participation in the tournament as well as matches with the senior squad would lead to burn out and injury.
In 2010 he would force his way back into England reckoning, only to take yet another knock.
After a poor performance against Egypt, His performance came under heavy criticism from Chris Waddle who said of Walcott, “I’ve never seen him develop. He just doesn’t understand the game for me – where to be running, when to run inside a full back, when to just play a one-two. It’s all off the cuff. I just don’t think he’s got a football brain and he’s going to have problems. Let’s be honest, good defenders would catch him offside every time.”
The football brain was a disgraceful comment made from a former England international at a 21 year old player still making his way. Later that year, Fabio Capello would omit Walcott from the disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign.
Walcott was still just 21, and had taken an incredible amount of knocks in his career. Hyped up, written off, hyped up, written off. It was impossible to not feel sorry for the young man.
After his 2010 World Cup omission, Walcott’s form dramatically improved, scoring double figures in the next 3 league campaigns.
Walcott turned 24 during the 2012/13 campaign and it seemed like he was finally becoming the quality operator many had hoped 7 years before. He scored 21 goals in 43 games, also contributing countless assists.
At this point, despite a solid season, many Arsenal fans were writing him off, calling for him to be sold. I compared him to Freddie Ljungberg in a blog back in 2013.
2013/14 saw him hampered by injury. He would get fit, score a few goals, pick up an injury. Get fit again, score a couple more goals. Get injured again. He failed to make another appearance after being stretchered off in a 2-0 victory over Spurs. He would score 6 goals in 18 games.
The injury against Spurs would see him not make another start until against Hull City in the third round of the FA Cup on 4 January 2015, exactly a year after sustaining his injury at the same stage of the competition.
2015 would finish on a high as he scored the opening goal of the 4-0 win over Aston Villa in the FA Cup final, making up for missing the 2014 final.
The next campaign would prove to be a frustrating one for Walcott. He would remain fit, but struggled for form. This form led up to miss out on the 2016 European Championships.
Despite being picked for the 2006 World Cup, Walcott sole appearances in a major international tournament remain a handful of substitute appearances at Euro 2012.
Last season was a mixed bag for Theo Walcott. 19 goals in 33 games was an exceptional return, but in the later part of the season he found himself on the bench, as Arsenal moved to playing 3 at the back.
Arsenal and Walcott now have a decision to make.
If Wenger sticks with 3 at the back, it is tough to see where Walcott will stay. And with another World Cup just around the corner, will Walcott risk missing what could be his last chance at a major tournament to sit on Arsenal’s bench.
The problem is Walcott is highly paid, on £140,000 a week, and is nearing his 29th birthday. If a deal is agreed to join (for example) West Ham, he is going to have to take a pay cut.
Back end of last season he was frozen out of the day. The cold shoulder over the summer could see him decide he has enough money, but wants 1st team football, and requests a move himself to get him back in the England side.
With Thomas Lemar and a new striker also incoming, it is tough to see where Theo Walcott fits in next season.
He has never been the prettiest on the eye, and has had a career filled with knock backs and criticism, but he has also carrier himself well.
And ultimately, if his Arsenal career does finish before his 12th season at the club, he can point to 104 goals in 377 games. A goals to games ratio of 1 in 3.6. Not a bad return for some who consider him to be a poor player.
This summer it feels like a natural end for Theo Walcott at Arsenal. I will wish him well wherever he go’s, stick him in my Fantasy Football team, and hope he makes an impact for England next summer.
It is time for Arsenal and Theo Walcott to part ways.