The 23-year-old has faltered in his six years at the Emirates, but as his side look to turn resurgence into a true turnaround in long-term fortunes, now may be his time to step up
By Andrew Kennedy at the Emirates
In recent seasons Theo Walcott has encapsulated life at the Emirates. From performances filled with speed and guile that promise and frustrate in equal measure, to his general form, which has so often shown signs of undoubted ability before returning to lulls void of confidence.
On Saturday, the Walcott who has frequently threatened to realise his potential was firmly on show as Arsenal sealed a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa and in turn their seventh Premier League win on the bounce. Yet too often the player who has flattered to deceive has been on display.
The wideman’s six years at the north London club since his move for an initial fee of £5 million from Southampton in January 2006 have been set against a background of continual transition and irritation among the club’s support, as they look to end a barren spell which has lasted since Walcott’s arrival.
The desire to secure a first trophy since the 2005 FA Cup win, combined with the 23-year-old’s early progression into a first-team regular at the Emirates, has been detrimental to his development.
Thrust into the limelight at such a young age, Walcott has been fast-tracked to a position of seniority that does not match his years, and at times such a standing has hung like a weight around his neck rather than providing the platform needed to kick on and become the player expected following his move from St. Mary’s.
A hat-trick at the start of last season in the 6-0 win over Blackpool looked to herald an upturn for the winger, as Arsenal started the Premier League season in emphatic fashion with another dose of renewed hope in the air in north London.
Yet just as his club would go on to capitulate midway through the campaign after such a promising start, Walcott himself would again dip, with his blistering pace – one of the key attributes to his game – used as a criticism for the lack of footballing intelligence which it hid.
|THEO ON FIRE
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|25'||GOAL!! 2-0 Arsenal!! Cuellar makes a hash of a clearance that Song pounces on and sends the ball directly where the defender should be positioned to find a free Walcott to slot past Given from 12 yards out.|
| PLAYER RATING
|8||A display full of attacking intent, and crucially, quality in the final ball. Continued his blossoming partnership with full-back Sagna down the right-hand side and showed a delightful first touch throughout, most importantly for his goal to make it 2-0.|
However, as the Gunners' remarkable recovery since August of this season turns into anticipation that Wenger is again in the midst of creating a team with the ability to compete for silverware, the missing piece that both Walcott and his team-mates have been striving for is coming to the fore – consistency.
In the opening 45 minutes of Saturday’s clash with Alex McLeish’s side, Arsenal were at their rampant best, and at the heart of their free-flowing football was the 23-year-old.
Walcott terrorised Stephen Warnock, with the left-back completely overwhelmed by the winger’s speed, touch, and ability to link up with Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky down the flank.
The wideman’s display was best summed up by his first-half goal to double Arsenal’s lead after Kieran Gibbs had opened the scoring. Drifting in from the flank and finding space behind the Villa backline, Walcott showed perfect control to latch on to Alex Song’s lofted through ball before providing an equally deft touch to beat Shay Given.
Yet such quality was not out of character for the player in recent weeks. Much like his side, the ex-Saints man’s season only truly kicked into gear on February 26, as the Gunners came from behind to defeat Tottenham 5-2.
Two-nil down after 34 minutes, Walcott again looked destined to be labelled the scapegoat with his side on course to suffer another demoralising defeat in a campaign littered with disappointment.
Yet in the second 45 the England international sealed an Arsenal turnaround with two well-taken goals, a showing replicated in the 2-1 victory over Newcastle just two weeks later and again this weekend as the Gunners tightened their grip on third place and went eight points clear of Chelsea in the race for Champions League football.
To truly justify any claims that Walcott has reached a watershed moment in his Arsenal career, he not only needs to repeat his performances away from home turf, but also on the national stage.
Much like his career at the Emirates, his early inclusion in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad for the 2006 World Cup has proved to be anything but beneficial, instead providing a level of expectation far beyond his years.
Other than a sensational hat-trick in the 4-1 victory over Croatia in Zagreb back in September 2008, Walcott’s career in a Three Lions shirt has faltered, with his presence in the national side regularly questioned and 18-year-old team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain touted as an alternative of late.
Just as the fellow former Southampton man’s presence at the Emirates seems to have instigated an improvement at club level, the 23-year-old now needs to do the same for England.
A late cameo was all Walcott was afforded by interim boss Stuart Pearce in February’s 3-2 friendly defeat to the Netherlands last month, with hope instead placed in Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and even Fraizer Campbell, all of whom started or entered the fray ahead of the Arsenal man.
There is no doubt that the attacker has displayed his current form many times before, yet consistency will not only quell those who doubt his place amongst the England squad, but also the dissidents at the Emirates.
And with Arsenal in full flight and promise firmly on the horizon for Arsene Wenger’s men, now may just be the time for Walcott to become the player he has so often threatened to be.Follow Andrew Kennedy on