For a long time Theo Walcott got the benefit of the doubt from Arsenal fans for a couple of reasons. For a start he was English and, let’s be honest, that counted for something given the lack of homegrown talent at the club in the mid noughties. And secondly, he was young.
I suppose Theo is still quite young, but he’s a long way from being the youngest in the squad. Indeed with a couple of hundred first team appearances under his belt he’s arguably one of the most experienced squad members we’ve got. As for his status as ‘an Englishman at Arsenal’…well we all know that with the new crop of Wilshere, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain and alike coming through the ranks we’ve a core of young Lions chomping at the bit. Theo has company.
As a consequence where once frustrated fans bit their collective lips when Theo ran the ball out of play, by halfway through this season patience had worn thin.
No more was this change in tact apparent than when audible annoyance was arrowed in the direction of Wenger’s favoured right-winger just before half-time in the Spurs match at the Emirates. Granted, losing to that mob down the road had something to do with it, but at the same time there was a real feeling that Walcott just couldn’t be relied upon when the going got tough.
Then something happened. By 15 minutes into the second half Theo had two goals to his name, Arsenal had overturned a two goal deficit and momentum, built on a platform of grit and determination was born. It’s this moment which Walcott touches upon in an interview in this afternoon’s Evening Standard.
Admitting that he had lost his way a little (some might say totally), he reflects on a momentous afternoon in the Spring sunshine and how he feels it helped him get back to his best.
“Class is always permanent and form dips during the season — that’s always the case,” he states with confidence.
“You can’t play well all season and I was struggling. I don’t know why. Maybe I took my eye off the game. I am always going to be judged on stats and it has definitely picked up since Spurs.
“When you are playing in a team that’s winning, it makes your job so much easier. That game was massive for me but also for the team.”
“I judge my own performances. I always like to look as if I’m on my front foot going forward but it is also about the defensive side of the game as well.
“The Newcastle game [on March 12 which Arsenal won 2-1] was a good example. Everything going forward was brilliant — assists, making runs in behind, running at my full-back. Even if he got it sometimes, I wouldn’t quit on it.”
It’s true; Theo did have a good game against Newcastle, although much of that seems to be down to shining in the reflected glory of Bacary Sagna. Since the Frenchman returned at right-back his solidity and willingness to overlap has certainly opened up space for Walcott to weave his special brand of ‘magic’.
Paying lip service to his defensive duties, which he appears to be undertaking more rigorously with Sagna barracking him from behind, Walcott continued:
“Defensively, I wanted to get the positional play right, helping my team-mates out. I want to be always wanting the ball. When we are playing at a quick pace, that helps me because I just do everything at a quick level anyway.”
There was a great article by Barney Ronay in the Guardian recently which, albeit tongue-in-cheek, analysed Walcott’s game and how it appears Arsene Wenger has simplified his team’s tactics to maximise Walcott’s main asset – his pace.
Describing the England international as “basically a punt downfield made flesh,” he described how Walcott’s sole responsibility was to get to the corne flag and pull the ball back. It appears, that Walcott agrees with the basic tenet of Ronay’s argument.
“I set myself a target and always say three successful crosses and a couple of shots in a game and that’s good. If you get a corner, it’s an end product for the team, the same with free-kicks, anything like that. You don’t want to be scared of your full-back, you want him to be on his back foot wondering what he is going to do next and when I’m playing well, that’s what happens.
“I would like to be more aggressive in matches and the manager has said that to me. Not by kicking people but by running at players. That’s the main improvement I need to make. When I play my best football, I am aggressive and not afraid of getting hurt. I am not afraid to put a foot in and that’s what he wants.”
All in all there’s not much that Walcott says which fans haven’t been thinking (or screaming) for years. It appears the penny has finally dropped, which, let’s be honest, is something of a relief given he’s been at the club for six years. Let’s hope Arsene picks it up and offers it back to his protégé during the on-going wage negotiations.