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Unshakeable Theo Walcott Finally Delivering on Potential

Theo Walcott. He is a player who causes much debate. Keep him or sell him – that was the argument this summer. He arrived 10 years ago with much promise but until recently some wondered if that promise was ever going to be realized.

Walcott like others before him, came to Arsenal with much promise but since his signing as a teenager, he has flittered from fits of excellence to troughs of mediocrity (or lower.) When he didn’t get picked for Roy Hodgson’s EURO squad, many thought the writing was on the wall – people were finally moving on from the Theo.

The one person who didn’t was Arsene Wenger. Our manager is one who gives unconditional trust to his players. Depending on where you fall on the Arsene-spectrum – it’s either one of his greatest strengths or biggest faults. The fact remains, he stuck with Theo Walcott and it’s beginning to look like a masterstroke.

For his part, Theo took the EURO snub in stride. He spent the summer working to get himself fit, and without the burden of a summer tournament he has come into the season fresh and looking electric.

When Theo Walcott was announced in the first match starting XI, the social media crows circled and complained about his inclusion as a starter. The argument was Oxlade-Chamberlain off of his annual Messi-like summer performance deserved the spot more than Theo.

Theo got the nod, along with Alexis up top and Iwobi out on the left. At the time it was a lineup that was perplexed. I wondered aloud if Alexis up top would work. While he is a little predictable out wide, Alexis coming in from the outside running at defences is a lot for even the best defenders to handle.

What we didn’t know is that given time, the front three would gel to provide Arsenal with as electric an attack as we’ve seen for a while and all with Theo Walcott playing a huge part in it.

Getting Help From Alexis

Adrian Clarke in this piece for Unibet, talked about it this morning in his piece on Alexis Sanchez – Theo is benefitting from Alexis playing the striker for Arsenal. With Alexis finally comfortable up there and attacking from deep, he draws immediate attention from multiple defenders. It’s just a nod to his amazing ability. But what happens and what has happened – when you pay too much attention to Alexis, space usually opens up for others. And when Alexis gets doubled up – it’s Theo his knack for finding space that benefits.

Taulant Xhaka takes a momentary glance at Alexis which provides enough space for Theo to run into and head the ball

Taulant Xhaka takes a momentary glance at Alexis which provides enough space for Theo to run into and head the ball (photo courtesy

In his first goal last night, Alexis moves out wide at an “Acute” angel – Taulant Xhaka makes the mistake of taking a first step towards Alexis, likely to help double up but that moment hesitation allows Theo to make the run (he starts behind both defenders) and have an unchallenged header.

For his second, it was a nice little inter-change with Alexis in a 2v4 situation. Theo passes inside to Alexis and one of the defenders again makes the mistake to pay more attention to Alexis then Theo who runs in the gap that has opened up and gets a sweet ball back from Alexis to run in alone on goal. It was a beautiful interchange and great to see Theo resurgent.

But it’s not just Theo’s attacking prowess we need to talk about. One of the biggest criticisms of Theo Walcott, even before

By the time Xhaka recovers too much space was given and Theo easily puts the header away

By the time Xhaka recovers too much space was given and Theo easily puts the header away (photo courtesy

injuries is that he never provided enough defensive cover when we were off the ball. Now that might have been fine with a fullback as defensively sound as Sagna but with Bellerin who is just as effective going forward as defending, having that additional cover is necessary.

As effective as Theo was in the attack against Chelsea, it was ability – no his desire to get back and defend (and win the ball) that stood out the most to me. He made it especially hard for either Azpellicueta or Hazard to get forward. It was a sight to behold and really the key factor in raising the question as to whether or not we were seeing a new Theo Walcott.

It’s fair to say, that last season was an all time low for Theo. Given that he looked to be trying to rival Diaby in the injury department that says a lot. Last season he was finally given the ability to play in his desired (noticed I didn’t say best) role of striker. It started out – ok but then he got injured and well it never went well from there. His inability to offer protection defensively meant that Aaron Ramsey was favored more out wide one the right than he was. And because he didn’t get all the playing time he wanted or needed – it resulted in his exclusion from the Euros squad. Needless to say it was a low point for young master Theodore.

Too Much Too Soon

I’ve always felt that Theo was given too much too early – and we as a club may be in part to blame for that but given the promise he showed early on, it’s clear why Arsene wanted him. However, his move to Arsenal combined with his early call up to the National Team may have built expectations up to the point where no matter what he did, if it didn’t automatically live up to his promise he would be seen as failure.

I work regularly with young players. I know parents are ready to give up on their kids playing the sport because they aren’t getting it. I always urge caution with that train of thought because we never know when a young player may take off. For some the switch may go on a few years after their friends or other players their age did.  Maybe, just maybe this is the case with Theo.

Maybe after the missed call up, Theo has had time to re-evaluate his priorities and what he wants to do with his career. He’s looked across from him seen his young family and the maturity has finally hit him. He’s always seemed a well-spoken smart kid but now, maybe he’s not a kid anymore and understands what he’s got to do to be successful.

Of course like his club, we can’t get too hopeful. We’ve seen this before. The key for him (and Arsenal) is consistency. Can it be done repeatedly over the course of a season? If yes, then watch out, Arsenal (and Theo) will benefit and do great things.

It is not the chat [that I had with him] which makes you score goals. He assessed where he stands and then rectified what he had to add to his game. That’s down to him, 95 per cent down to him. – Arsene Wenger

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