Theo Walcott has surveyed his contribution to Arsenal in the last calendar year and has concluded there's room for improvement. Were this forum a church of Gooners, I'm sure we'd hear a resounding "amen!"
We may quite possibly hear a few sniggers, a sizable chorus of boos from the corner or perhaps see a few fists shaken in the air in protest.
In sum, Theo Walcott is a perplexing case. But let's shelve this momentarily and hear from the man himself.
I had quite a good scoring year in 2011 with a lot of assists, which I'm happy with.
This season I think I need to get in among the goals a bit more maybe—I only have four. But I'm happy if the team's winning and I'm getting assists for the main man up front. I'm doing my job, and you have to be effective going forward. That's what I've been doing so far.
He also wants to help Arsenal win trophies.
I think we've had so much experience of almost getting there—quarterfinals, the final of the Carling Cup for example—and we just want a bit more.
We obviously want to win the Premier League, we want to win every competition we enter. It's been a long time since we won something and for me personally, I want to win even more now as well.
Fingers crossed we can all stay fit, which is quite important. In seasons before we've had a lot of injuries that have stuttered us slightly, and that doesn't help the team. But it's a squad thing, and the important thing is that we keep a lot of players fit.
The issue at hand may be captured in this funny little ditty.
How do you solve a problem like Theo Walcott?
How do you make him calm, not always run headlong?
To elaborate on the issue, I should like to strike a few points.
Theo Walcott shows genuine promise.
Walcott is just 22 and possesses genuine talent, which was the reason why he made the 2006 World Cup squad—a surprise to everyone, granted, but a testimony to what coaches, including Sven Goran Eriksson, thought of him.
This was also the year Walcott won the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Award, further testimony of his talent.
Following the 2006 World Cup in which he didn't feature at all, Theo Walcott was dropped to the U-21 squad by the subsequent English manager Steve McClaren, a move that could have had a psychological impact on the young Walcott since it was in some way a demotion.
Walcott handled it admirably, as Arsene Wenger's praise indicates:
I’ve not seen many who have dealt as well as Theo with what has happened to him.
I think Theo dealt well with sudden fame. He is a good example because he had ups and downs very quickly and he always kept focused in training. [He was] humble and always accepted any advise.
When you come from the first team, you go to the under-21s and you don’t play it is difficult.
When Walcott was recalled to the England senior squad in 2008 for the World Cup qualifiers, he bounced back in style.
Walcott in action for England against Spain
He made his first competitive start for England against Andorra on 6 September 2008, and the second start four days later against Croatia, a match in which he scored a hat trick to become the youngest English player to do so.
Walcott's debut season for Arsenal complements the current narrative: promise. It is a story of "firsts" and assists. However, injury was on hand to mitigate this promise.
Injury is our second point.
Theo Walcott's growth has been accompanied and hampered by niggling injuries.
Until he had his shoulder injury he was very promising. After he had his shoulder injury he was 50 percent of what he was before.
These were Wenger's words, spoken of Walcott after the latter's debut season for Arsenal. What should be underlined from this is the 50 percent part because this has become true again and again in Walcott's journey.
You'd recall that injury played a huge role in Walcott's exclusion from England's 2010 World Cup squad. Fabio Capello gives his rationale for excluding Theo Walcott from the squad in the following interview:
It was a really hard decision for me.
I know Theo Walcott was really important in the games we played in qualification. But after his operation on his shoulder, he did not play a lot of games. He was not the same player we knew before the injury.
I hope that he will be fit and over injury and he will be back in the team for the other qualifiers (Euro 2012). It was hard for me, but we had to choose the best players for the squad.
After the World Cup disappointment, Theo Walcott began the 2010-11 season with Arsenal with blistering form, scoring his first hat trick in the six-nil defeat of Blackpool.
This promising start would be interrupted yet again by injury while playing for England in the Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland. Keen followers of Walcott might notice that after this injury, Walcott is yet to recover the form with which he began the 2010-11 season.
Any Walcott critic must take into account the battle with injury that he has had to fight beside the normal battle with form with which every player contends.
And now form.
Walcott's erratic form does not endear him to fans.
Theo Walcott's form this season has been exasperating to many Arsenal fans. He began the season well enough, helping Arsenal to negotiate the dark corners of the season when the Arsenal ship was on the brink of capsizing.
Then some barren performances followed, leading a number of Arsenal fans to insist rather angrily that he should be sold off.
And then, some endearing performances followed that appeased the fans.
But just when Walcott was captivating the fans yet again, he has since followed his good performances with some truly execrable ones, leading fans once again to cry out in exasperation.
The summation: Is Walcott a failure or a promise still waiting to blossom?
I am of the opinion that Walcott is a gem yet to dazzle.
That he's not dazzling yet simply means that he's still in the rough. Gleaming gems, we'd recall, are a result of the cutter's fine art; without this, we could toss the stone away as some ordinary clunk of dirt or some annoying pebble.
Let me strike a few sub-points on the issue.
Walcott is at his most dangerous when set loose in the middle.
I struck this point in a comment to my Aaron Ramsey article, just before the QPR game. Bingo, Walcott is put through, and what does he do? He skews his shot when it seems easier to score. Observe, though, that the fact that Walcott did not score does not negate my point.
Walcott still shoots straight at the goalkeeper, true, but at the same time there are occasions when he doesn't.
The reader would observe that Walcott scores as many of such chances as the ones he misses. In fact, it can be argued that he scores many more of those than he misses.
But the point of this is to say, if the Arsenal management should do the sensible thing and renew Walcott's contract without further delay (there's a big chance he may leave in the summer, a fact we'd regret eventually), he shows enough promise to justify the re-signing.
Walcott in action for Arsenal
Moreover, Walcott has the potential to be Arsenal's future striker.
Many will look at his current lack of guile in front of goal as a negating factor to my point. To this, I should like to point to my qualifier: promise.
If you consider the current Walcott as a finish product, then you're absolutely right to conclude he's a disappointment.
But if you see him as a product for the future, then you can't but salivate at the prospect (pardon my crude metaphor).
Walcott is not doing too badly at the moment.
Walcott doesn't have the highest assists in the current season or in the last, but he has just enough of them. What's more, he's working well with Robin Van Persie. Watch my compilation of RVP's goals and you'll see the connection.
If Arsenal are to persuade RVP to stay, then they have to show their ambition as a club by retaining Walcott.
Walcott is only 22, and as I have pointed out elsewhere, it means that when he's compared to RVP, he has six more years to attain the latter's status.
Moreover (and this is one of my arguments), if Arsenal pride themselves in cultivating young talents, why too hastily discard one of their brightest prospects simply because he's misfiring at the moment?
Again, the keyword is prospect, and who can deny that Walcott is a bright prospect?
Walcott is a defensive weapon.
Let me quote from one my recent articles to make the point.
Walcott is a deterrence to wingers and full-backs because they know he can break loose at any time. His mere presence on the pitch can be a defensive strategy even when he doesn't play particularly well.
I made this point in my reaction to the Fulham loss. I felt that the removal of Walcott from the match further exposed the uncomfortable Djourou, who was then targeted by the Fulham attack. I had noted this targeting as a possibility in my preview of the Fulham match.
If Walcott had remained on the pitch despite the fact that he wasn't playing well, his mere presence on the right flank could have been a sufficient cover for Djourou, precisely because opposing teams are genuinely afraid of Walcott's space.
This hampers their attacking thrust on the left flank.
Walcott, then, is a weapon that can be employed strategically to blunt an opposing team's leftward attack.
Now, although we'll like to see Walcott attack more and be on top of his game in every match, the reality is that this cannot always be the case. But that doesn't mean that Walcott is only useful when he's on fire.
The above observation is one of the ways in which he can be useful to the team.
Walcott needs cultivation.
Here is the song I alluded to at the beginning of the article.
How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!
Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand
Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?
Maria's story in The Sound of Music is a good metaphor for Walcott in this sense: Maria only discovers her true purpose by leaving the confines of the convent for a broader role on a bigger canvas.
It's the responsibility of Arsene Wenger and his assistants to nurture and adapt Walcott's talent to Arsenal's needs. Sometimes it pays to adapt structure to players' particular gifts. This, of course, is true of other players.
How do you solve a problem like Theo Walcott? Well, give him a chance.
As usual, I welcome your comments and perspective.
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