For some Arsenal fans, he is the young speedster who’s torn the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona apart, not to mention Croatia and Sweden at international level for England. Indeed, none other than Lionel Messi himself declared Walcott as “the player we (Barcelona) really feared” after the Arsenal forward was in hindsight as admitted by Fabio Capello himself, wrongly left out of England’s 2010 World Cup squad. However, for other Arsenal fans and an ever increasing number of them,Walcott remains somewhat of a symbol of the club’s failings in recent years. Capable of brilliance but all too often too spasmodically. Walcott himself somewhat bizarrely referred to his performances last season as having “consistency in patches”. Moreover, there are some Arsenal supporters, particularly those who aired their grievances so vociferously at the Emirates Stadium in February, with the Gunners struggling at 2-0 down to their closest rivals Tottenham, who see Walcott as nothing other than a Greyhound; an athlete, one who’s sprinting ability far outweighs his talent with the ball at his feet. Such arguments are now conceivably at the front of the agenda within the powers that be at Arsenal, where the decision must be taken whether to extend Walcott’s contract, which currently is like skipper Robin Van Persies’, due to run out in 12 months time. With Walcott and his representatives seemingly asking for six figures a week, the decision must be made on Walcott a full six years after his ambitious move from Southampton to Arsenal. Has Walcott shown enough to justify matching his demands, or is it better placed to sell him on to clubs who would undoubtedly be willing to give Arsenal a profit on their initial investment?
Walcott has faults, of that there is no doubt. His technique with a football is clearly not at the level of a Luka Modric, or if we put it in comparison with other Premier League wingers; Nani, Eden Hazard or Hatem Ben Arfa. Walcott often appears uncomfortable dribbling with the ball at his feet, incapable of taking on players and beating them in the way Gareth Bale and Antonio Valencia seem to do so easily. Occasionally, his speed seems to affect his usually consistent level of finishing as his legs tangle and an embarrassing moment ensues. The emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Arsenal, seemingly fighting against Walcott for the right wing position has also put pressure on the 23 year old from Stanmore, London. Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to be a winger in every sense of the word, fully comfortable left and right, excellent at taking players on and possessing a natural technique that Walcott has never been fully capable of executing. But is the problem simply that Walcott, played on the right wing ever since his arrival in North London is not a winger. Walcott’s best performances for Arsenal and indeed for England have often seen him arriving to finish off moves, running onto balls that are played through to him in between and behind defenders, in the striker mould of a young Michael Owen. Walcott, The Tottenham game in February is a clear example. In the first half, Walcott toiled as he received the ball deep in the opposition half, closer to the half-way line than the goal. In such positions, Walcott’s talents are rendered inert. The second half saw Walcott at his best, running onto two precise through balls from Van Persie and Song, and cooly finishing both chances with all the accuracy of a striker. I myself have often called for Walcott to be played up front with a Van Persie in behind, in the mould of a Bergkamp/Henry combination. This is not to try and compare the talents of Walcott and the Frenchman, Arsenal’s record goalscorer, but simply that when given the service and in particular balls for Walcott to run onto in behind the defenders, there is arguably no more effective player in the Premier League.
Walcott has also more than proved that even on the right-wing, he is capable of providing an effective and match-winning influence. His statistics from the last two seasons match up with any right winger in the world, let alone the Premier League. Last season, 13 goals and 11 assists made him Arsenal’s second top goalscorer and top assist maker. Not bad for a team who finished 3rd in the Premier League behind the might of the two Manchester clubs. Walcott’s ability to produce against the biggest teams and the biggest games also points to a player worth keeper. He has scored four goals in his career against Chelsea to date, as well as causing Barcelona numerous problems. The likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United have all suffered under Walcott’s onslaughts. A big game player is always of great value, none more so at Arsenal where the players often appear to buckle under the pressure. Walcott’s detractors argue that this is simply because of the greater space afforded to Arsenal against the better teams, meaning that Walcott’s limitations as a footballer in tight areas are masked. Surely however, the argument is - so what? Should a player who is proven to be a matchwinner against the biggest of teams be binned simply because it is “only” due to him having more space? The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo have often failed in the pressure matches so the idea that Walcott is undeserving of praise for consistently producing is laughable.
In conclusion, Theodore James Walcott is evidently far from being the perfect footballer. However, what he brings to Arsenal in his sheer presence seems to scare the opposition into dropping ten yards further back, thus allowing more space for the likes of Van Persie and this season Podolski and Giroud to wreck havoc. It has also been noted that Walcott is exactly the type of player Arsenal have struggled against for several seasons now. Thus, when Ivan Gazidis and Arsenal’s contract negotiator Dick Law sit down to discuss the merits of giving into Walcott’s demands, the young Englishmen’s sheer ability to hurt opposition from nowhere, literally in a flash should be considered. As one of England’s brightest stars, to let him go in a summer where the Gunners might also lose Van Persie would be a disaster.
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