09 February 2017

Worried about Walcott: why hasn't the Arsenal stalwart ever quite hit the big time?

Last year, Theo Walcott celebrated ten years as an Arsenal player. And in an era where so many players are attracted by the brighter lights and heavier wage packets of the foreign leagues, that’s a pretty impressive stint. It doesn’t appear to be in danger of ending any time soon, either. At the time of writing, Walcott has scored fourteen times in twenty-seven appearances this season and has been in stellar form. Despite this, his place as an Arsenal legend is still debated. Many will say he isn’t strong enough (despite clearly spending a considerable amount of time in the gym of late), lacks desire, or doesn’t have the football mind that many of his peers have been born with.

There’s no getting away from the fact that, despite many impressive performances, countless hat tricks (he’s bagged five to date for the Gunners) and an enviable ability to conduct himself well in front of the camera, Theo has never quite made it. He’s never hit the big time. Why? Here’s a few musings on one of the most contentious of Gunner topics:

He’s not getting the position he wants.
It’s no secret that Walcott has long wanted to fill Thierry Henry’s boots by taking up a regular central striker role. Despite this, Wenger seems far more comfortable placing him on the flank, giving him only fleeting chances of playing through the middle. That’s a shame, but players rarely get to dictate their positions, and if someone of Wenger’s experience thinks a wing position is best for you, there’s little option but to take it as an indication that you can achieve great things within that part of the pitch.

He's had more than his fair share of pundit criticism.
Alan Shearer once labelled Walcott as ‘not nasty enough’ on Match of the Day, and the loyal Gunner has long received similar criticism from other TV and radio pundits. Such commentary from the greats of the game can’t be particularly encouraging, and it’d require a very thick skin indeed to ensure that it doesn’t affect your game. With that in mind, there’s a very strong chance that Theo has had his confidence knocked while re-watching games on Saturday nights.

He simply isn’t up there with the big boys.
Fellow Southampton product Gareth Bale was deemed so valuable by Real Madrid that they willingly dipped into their bank account and offloaded £85million for the privilege of having him number among the current generation of gal├ícticos. However, put Bale side-by-side with Walcott, and can anyone really lay claim to the fact that they’re on the same level? The truth is, Walcott has often played it safe, kept his head just below water on the pitch, and somehow lacks the star quality of the like of Bale and Ronaldo. There’s nothing wrong in that (few players reach those heights), but it will stop him from truly making it.
One thing is for sure—Walcott probably isn’t going anywhere, and if he keeps scoring goals, does it really matter that he’s never quite hit the big time? Possibly not, but with Arsenal again faltering at this stage of the season, Gunners fans will be forgiven for wishing that they had one or two Bale-types in the team.

Thanks to Mark Ellis for this thought-provoking guest-post. We've invested a lot in Walcott, but has he risen to the levels that we'd been promised? Share your thoughts in the comments-section below!