29th February 2016: Walcott needs to man up or move on
Welcome back. I spoke about Aaron Ramsey yesterday because his unsuitability to playing as a central midfielder in our style is the primary reason Arsenal have been functioning poorly as a team for the last few months in my opinion, but today I want to discuss a few of our other players.
I’ll start with Theo Walcott, because he has rightly been derided for going AWOL in our loss to Manchester United yesterday and similar to Ramsey, is a player who divides opinion. Capable of match-winning contributions occasionally, what we get more often than not from Theo is a player with poor control, minimal involvement in the team’s build-up play and an infuriating lack of will to impose himself on the action.
I’ve long thought it to be a mental issue with the player; he has the necessary ability to play for us at the highest level but if one player’s on-pitch personality reflects that of every Arsenal team, funnily enough, since Theo arrived back in January 2006, it’s him. Timid, overly nice with an ‘after you’ demeanour towards team-mates and opponents alike, and the opposite of tenacious, whatever the right word for that is – that’s Theo.
As fans, whether we’re watching from the stands or tuning in on TV, I think I speak for the majority when I say we can take being outplayed. We can take us having a bad day. But what’s unacceptable is players shying away from trying, for whatever reason.
I wouldn’t say it’s laziness at all on Theo’s part though, I think as Amy Lawrence suggests here, and in fairness, similar to what I’ve said in the past, it’s fear. In colloquial terms, if I’m being blunt, he’s a wuss, who lacks faith in his own ability.
He has the mentality of a child who thinks he’s playing against big, bad grown-ups and if I’m honest, it’s a little embarrassing, aside from being detrimental to Arsenal’s quest for success. Amy hits the nail on the head when she says it’s a fear of failure.
Walcott comes across as an articulate young man off the pitch and always says the right things but he’s on autopilot – spewing straight-batted, press office-fed, image-conscience words with little or no real meaning. It’s the way of the world but unlike most professional footballers, Theo plays like he speaks.
I’ve been Theo’s biggest fan since he arrived at the club and have defended him, insisting his qualities are under-estimated – and I still maintain they are. He’s still outstandingly quick, has brilliant movement off the shoulders of defenders, (usually) great finishing technique (despite the odd comical miscue), and a knack for scoring at vital times.
Years ago I confidently told a mate that Theo ‘will explode soon, just you watch’. I knew at the time he needed to mature in his outlook to the physical challenges of the game but not for a second did I think that would still be the case when he was 26.
If you compare Theo to Michael Owen, Owen was more fearless at 17, in what was a tougher, meaner Premier League in those days, than Walcott is now. Perhaps it’s all down to varying upbringings and club environments.
I mean, whereas Owen had the likes of the no-nonsense Paul Ince as a captain in a squad of battle-hardened, old-school British pros, Walcott’s not been toughened up in training, as Thierry Henry for instance, often fondly remembers he was by the likes of Tony Adams and Martin Keown when he joined Arsenal.
And perhaps more than the player then, that’s on the manager. Some players, like Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, are naturally aggressive and have ‘fire in their bellies’, others need one started for them. In our 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge in 2011, for example, Theo scored a great goal moments after being fouled by Ashley Cole for about the 17th time in ten minutes.
It was obvious that for a few seconds after being upended, Theo got angry. What followed was him showing the kind of determination we need from him all the time. On that occasion, he was felled, sprung to his feet as if to say ‘fuck this, I’ll show you you fouling, money-grabbing, turncoat, and proceeded to score a great solo goal.
Maybe what we need is to make Theo more angry more often. Tell him he’s crap at football, someone’s keyed his new car, nicked his shin-pads – whatever makes him lose his sh*t. Perhaps we should sign Joey Barton and Lee Cattermole for the sole purpose of fouling him in training. Not to injure him mind, just to annoy him into anger. The bottom line to my mind though, is Walcott needs to man up, or in his and our best interests, move onto to a club where he’ll be forced to.
At the start I said I wanted to talk about a few players but Theo’s taken up all my time in the end so Gabriel and Alexis Sanchez will have to wait. But I will say this, I maintain Ramsey being unsuitable to cover for Santi Cazorla is by far the side’s biggest problem at the moment, not Theo’s lack of contribution, or defensive lapses in concentration or Alexis being out of form.
Theo may have gone missing at Old Trafford, but if you’re singling him out as the reason for our loss, you’re missing the point. The point’s Ramsey.