Theo Walcott has grown from a teenager into an adult at Arsenal Football Club and he leaves north London with three FA Cups to his name. Those 108 goals in 397 appearances certainly shouldn’t be overlooked either. After 12 years Arsenal’s longest serving player has left to join Everton in a transfer which will almost certainly revive a career which was beginning to look stale.
Walcott’s 397 appearances put him ahead of Thierry Henry (377), while his 108 goals make him joint 15th in the club’s all-time list. He has scored in the FA Cup final, mocked Tottenham fans while sitting on a stretcher and came back from a potential career-ending cruciate ligament injury to score 19 goals last season despite not even playing the final 10 games of the campaign.
His numbers are good, his professionalism is unquestioned yet many will reflect on Walcott’s Arsenal career with the opinion that he 'didn’t do enough'. Sven Goran Eriksson’s decision to call him up to the 2006 World Cup squad was certainly too much too soon for the England youngster. He didn’t play a minute at the tournament and while he went on to become a Three Lions regular, scoring a hat-trick against Croatia in a World Cup qualifier in 2008, there was always a sense that Walcott needed more one-on-one coaching due to his young age and rise from Championship player to Premier League star.
Walcott’s first goal for the Gunners was in the 2007 League Cup final and he contributed on average 16 goals and assists per season. Considering he was under 21 in five of those seasons it’s an impressive achievement for a player who clearly wasn’t as gifted as his No.14 predecessor Henry. Indeed, the decision in 2008 to hand Walcott the famous shirt didn’t work out as expected and arguably heaped further pressure on a player who was struggling to deliver at centre forward.
It’s fair to say Walcott contributed big moments in big games over the years. His performances against Barcelona prompted praise from Lionel Messi who said the Catalan giants were “scared of Walcott” after a magnificent cameo appearance which helped the Gunners salvage a draw.
“When we were playing Arsenal at the Emirates we were so in control of the game at 2-0, with all respect Arsenal were not even in the game,” said Messi. “Then Theo came on and changed the game. He pretty much single-handedly salvaged a draw that night.”
In the 2012/13 season, Walcott was the club’s top score with 21 goals and the partnership with Robin van Persie. The Dutchman scored 96 times in the Premier League and Walcott assisted 14 of those strikes. Despite an up and down relationship, the two provided a slick combination in attack and it’s no wonder that the England man’s delay in signing a contract saw Arsenal supporters create a banner and song called ‘sign da ting’.
While he eventually did sign on the dotted line to become one of Arsenal’s highest paid players, Walcott has never reached the expectations set of him by many – and perhaps that’s because those expectations were too high. He possessed the pace of Henry but at times his technique was lacking. Those intelligent runs could be seen in games against huge opposition such as Barcelona and Chelsea, but at other times he would struggle to get the ball under control or clumsily run into opposition defenders as if he hadn’t played the game before.
To criticise Walcott you must lay the blame at the door of those who coached and brought him into the world arena at the age of 16. He has delivered at the highest level for Arsenal and while he may not have replicated the goals and assists of Henry, his contributions to the club shouldn’t be understated and he certainly deserves to depart as a club legend after 108 goals and 12 years of service.