Welcome back. Remarkably, today marks the ten-year anniversary of Theo Walcott’s arrival from Southampton as a fresh-faced 16-year-old who’d already been tagged as ‘the new Thierry Henry’.
I remember that January very well, because we also signed Emmanuel Adebayor and Abou Diaby, who were similarly being heralded as the ‘the new Kanu’ and ‘the new Vieira’ respectively. But it was Theo’s signing that excited me most. Not because he was the highest-rated young English star since Wayne Rooney a few years earlier, but because unlike for Diaby and Adebayor, there were a few clips of him in action for Southampton’s youth and first-teams available to view on what was then still a fledgling YouTube.
And I liked what I saw; extraordinary pace, flamboyant goals and believe it or not now, a fearlessness about his game. He was a 16-year-old playing in a physically-demanding Championship and making an impact – I just assumed he’d carry that straight into Arsenal’s first-team. Especially when, shortly after he signed for us, I traveled to Havant and Waterlooville’s ground to see him make his debut in Arsenal colours for our reserve team against Portsmouth’s and he managed to score a very well-taken goal.
But Theo didn’t feature at all for our first-team for the remained of the 2005-2006 campaign and was made to wait until the opening game of the following season – the very first Premier League fixture at our newly-opened Emirates stadium – versus Aston Villa. If I remember correctly, we scored a last minute equaliser through Gilberto Silva and it was Theo with the cross that led to the goal.
A decade on though and the jury is still very much out on Theo as a player. Some, like me, rate him highly, others don’t at all and the rest are still unsure whether he’s sh*t, average, good or great. Injuries have clearly hampered his development throughout his time at Arsenal – and he’s had some serious ones to recover from too – but I think even his staunchest supporters would concede he hasn’t quite lived up to the early hype.
Anyway, Arsene Wenger has been speaking to Arsenal Player about his number 14, discussing his development as a player and reveling what stood out about Theo as a player when he first saw him play for Southampton’s youth team. He said:
Theo is very intelligent. He always had pace and his movement off the ball was always perfect. I think he is much more conscious of teamwork and he has improved as well in his finishing. He is absolutely deadly compared to 10 years ago. He needed many chances to score a goal and today he can finish very well. His final ball and his technique are much better. Ten years here, that shows as well that he loves Arsenal and I’m convinced he will give us much more in the next five years than the last five because he is a player who is always moving forward and trying to do better. He has a very positive attitude. [I first saw him play] in the FA Youth Cup with Southampton. I saw him in the final, he played on the left side where he plays now and I liked his movement off the ball. A player like him is very difficult to find and Theo’s movement off the ball and intelligence is really his brand and [are part of his] characteristics.
While team-mate Per Mertesacker lauded Walcott’s loyalty in staying at Arsenal so long and says Theo’s love for the club has kept him in north London. He said:
Ten years, it’s an unbelievable achievement to play on a consistent level for such a long time in the same club. That is rare in modern football and we are happy to have him. I think what kept him here was the spirit of the group and his love for the club, and that is something I look up to. He is a role model to a lot of young people, and he plays a major role now and that’s what he likes to play for us, being much more experienced than when he came. He looks different as well… it is amazing to see such a player play for us.
Black-slapping aside, it’s fair to say Theo faces a real battle to hold onto his first-choice status once the likes of Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez , Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere start filtering back to full fitness, and at nearly 27 now, that surely has to be a concern for him.
Then there’s the fact that should a world-class attacker become available on the market either now, next summer, or whenever, Arsenal are now in a position were they’re willing and able to spend big to improve the team. So Walcott has a challenge and a half on his hands to prove that a) he deserves to start ahead of current team-mates and b) that he’s so good, we wouldn’t be upgrading by buying say, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Arsene said recently that he thinks’ Theo’s best years will be from now until he’s 31/32 – let’s hope the boss is right and ‘the new Theirry Henry’ shows he was worthy of such a comparison when it was made all those years ago. Over to you Theo …
Back on Thursday.