Theo Walcott has admitted to questioning his decision to take Thierry Henry’s No.14 at Arsenal, accused the Gunners of being “too nice” during his time at Emirates Stadium and reflected on being asked by Barcelona icon Lionel Messi to swap shirts in the Champions League.
The England international forward moved to north London in 2006 and would go on to spend 12 years with a Premier League heavyweight.
He was a starry-eyed youngster when joining Arsenal and progressed quickly to the point that he felt ready to step into the shoes of a legend when Henry left for Barcelona.
“I originally wanted number 8 but it was the season they signed Samir Nasri, so they told me I couldn’t have it,” Walcott told talkSPORT.
“So I just said I’ll take number 14. I’m not superstitious and I didn’t really think of the relevance. Then suddenly I thought, ‘Sh*t, I’ve taken Thierry’s number’.
“I got a shirt signed from Henry and it said, ‘Do number 14, from number 14’. He signed it off, and if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.”
Walcott did do Henry’s jersey justice, taking in 397 appearances for Arsenal and scoring 108 goals.
He figured in two FA Cups triumphs and was a regular on a Champions League stage, with European outings allowing him to rub shoulders with the very best in the business – including a certain Argentine who made a surprising request after a quarter-final clash in 2010.
Walcott said of mingling with Messi: “When he had the ball and he wanted to face up with me, he would turn and go the other way. I thought, ‘OK, Messi doesn’t want to try and run past me, that’s a good sign’.
“We played Barcelona quite a lot and Messi asked for my shirt. I thought, ‘Wow, the greatest player in the world is asking for my shirt!’ I’ve got no words for that.”
Walcott was never able to taste continental glory while with the Gunners and eventually saw an ambitious outfit slip out of the Premier League’s top four.
It is proving to be a long way back for Arsenal, with a former favourite saying of his experiences: “We were too nice. Then we won a few FA Cups and got in the Champions League a lot.
“At times, that felt like it was good enough for Arsenal. It felt like a bit of a medal. As players, we wanted to win things, but the club were happy to finish fourth.
“When Leicester won the league and we were the only team to beat them twice, that was the year we should’ve done something. That was the year Arsenal should’ve won it.”