03 January 2016

Is this Theo's last chance to prove his worth?

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a thing of beauty, not this...this monstrosity. Okay, so “monstrosity” puts it a bit strong, but the idea still lurks. The signing of Mesut Özil was supposed to unleash Theo Walcott’s inner beast, releasing his inner Henry, as Theo and Özil linked up, Özil’s beautifully-weighted passes finding the space in behind a defense where only Walcott would get to it—it might have ever risen to the level of Bergkamp to Henry, but it should have come closer to that than it has. Three seasons after his arrival, however, Özil seems to link up far-better with Alexis or Giroud, and the Özil-Walcott partnership seems almost nonexistent. With the aforementioned trio firmly ensconced as a foundation to our attack, the second half of this season might represent Walcott’s last chance to prove his worth.

Whether that worth is measured in his actual play on the pitch or the transfer-fee he might eventually command, the man will turn 27 in March, and a player whose entire repertoire consists largely if not singly of pace is running out of time. Since returning from what might have been a devastating knee injury in January 2014, Walcott has flirted with the kind of brilliance that makes him so exciting to watch. However, those have come only as the fleetest of flashes between longer periods of ineffectiveness during which Walcott’s first touch seems to have completely abandoned him. Aside from a brief flurry in late September and early October during which he contributed two goals in three assists across three matches, Walcott has only added three other goals and one assist in 13 other appearances.

It’s not for lack of chances—just a week ago against Bournemouth, Walcott squandered a number of beautiful chances, none worse than the exquisite cross in from Özil that curled directly into Walcott’s path. All that was left for him to do was to control the ball and have a go at goal. However, his first touch put the ball about ten yards too far, and Boruc had little trouble in snuffing out what should have been a goal for—or at least a shot from—Walcott. On the other hand, against Newcastle, Walcott was all but anonymous, adding little to an attack that could have done with a bit of aggressiveness in the attack. Contrast how direct Alexis is, he who shows delicate and devastating touch on the ball, who can dribble defenders, who can finish clinically...in Alexis's absence, Walcott should have seized the chance to remind us of what he can do. He hasn't—at least, not yet.

Having put pen to paper on a fresh contract in July 2015, Walcott is now earning £140,000 per week. That new contract runs through 2019, but Arsenal should ask whether or not Walcott should stick around that long. Those might sound like harsh words against a player who has spent most of his professional career with Arsenal, but the harsh reality is that the club has to do what’s best for the club. I’m not suggesting Walcott be sold to some —but it would be wise to sell him away from England lest he enjoy a kind of resurrection. As alluded to already, however, it grows less and less likely that a player of his age can continue to depend on pace to carry the day. If he had a better touch on the ball, if he could dribble a defender, if he was a more-clinical finisher, this story could lead to a different, happier ending.

 Between now and May, Walcott will have a chance to prove that he can be (and is) the kind of player we’ve spent so much time imagining and hoping he’d become. It’s been almost ten years of waiting. Walcott should use the next five months to become that player. This does not mean that he’ll have to start scoring braces and hat-tricks each week. If he does, so much the better for Arsenal’s ambitions in the FA Cup, Prem, and Champions League. An uptick in form would certainly sharpen up his value in the transfer-market...and perhaps put even lay waste to this entire discussion.