I suppose the title itself will have a majority of Arsenal fans up in arms. "He's just 22!"
I'm sure the sentimental favorites for the "overrated" accolade would be Andrey Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and the unfortunate Ju-Young Park. But this is a comparison of performance with expectation, and as regards the three I've just named, the expectation now is, quite frankly, nil.
Theo Walcott was a fantastic prospect when Arsenal signed him from Southampton. For no fault of his own and having never played a minute for Arsenal, he went to the 2006 World Cup, didn't get a game and came back almost a villain. Absurd, inexplicable, unfair.
He then began to develop as a Gunner, his speed and incisive play producing occasional moments of absolute brilliance, one of them being to open the scoring in the 2007 Carling Cup final against Chelsea. There were several such moments after that—the words Anfield, Milan, St Andrews, Zagreb, Barcelona and Stamford Bridge come to mind immediately—but that's what they remained. Moments.
In between, there were long spells of mediocrity—of giving the ball away, of crossing into the stands, of running the ball into touch, of shooting off target. And unfortunately, of late, of not signing contracts and of throwing his arms up in the air as if he's surrounded by amateurs.
I understand that he's only "almost 23" (I can't handle "just 22" any longer). I accept that he's improved over the years. But for a player who has been (and still is) rated as one of English football's brightest stars, he just doesn't do enough.
I'm not saying he's bad. No. On the whole, I would rate him as quite good. And I think he gets that rating as a result of averaging out some great moments with several ordinary ones. If I could use a tennis analogy, he makes far too many unforced errors.
Who is Arsenal's most overrated player this season?
Let's look at what he's done this season. Thanks to the departure of Samir Nasri and the decline of Andrey Arshavin, Walcott has nailed down a starting place for himself. Of the 23 Premier League games Arsenal have played this season, Walcott has featured in 22, starting 20.
In these 22 appearances, he has four assists and three goals. Three goals from 54 shots taken. That's a goal every 18 shots. I have no knowledge of whether that's a good stat or not, but common sense suggests it isn't. And for a player who has gone out of his way to stake his claim for a central attacking role this season, he may want to take a long hard look at those numbers.
If we remove the first few games of the season, Walcott has three goals in his last 25 games in all competitions, including that ricochet off his head against Aston Villa in the FA Cup.
The stat I don't have access to, but wish I did, was the one I mentioned earlier—unforced errors. The number of times he's given the ball away indicates not only the technical competence of the player, but more importantly, the number of potential opportunities lost to the team while the player has possession. I'd be surprised if Walcott didn't lead the league for this stat.
My biggest grouse with Theo—besides the contract issue—is the fact that his primary area of weakness is one that can be improved and eradicated through sensible effort. What we're asking him to do is to pass accurately, control the ball better while running and cross somewhere between the keeper and the penalty spot. If Carl Jenkinson can do it, so can Theo. But he doesn't. Year after year.
I'm not suggesting that Theo Walcott is a bad footballer. I'm not saying he has no future. He certainly does. I'm not saying he hasn't improved. He's just not as consistently good as he's made out to be.
Maybe he should be used down the middle as a target man, but that's not going to happen in Arsenal's 4-5-1 while Robin Van Persie is around.
He needs to work on his first touch, his decision making when in trouble, his crossing and his shooting. And until then, he should mainly be used as an impact sub, because that's what he's good at—making an impact in spurts.
Arsenal fans will soon realize that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a better all-round player, and I like the thought of him and Gervinho as our wide players, with Walcott an option off the bench.
I do hope Theo extends his time at Arsenal and goes on to become an all-time great. He seems to be a sensible guy as well, avoiding the limelight and the paparazzi. And all things being said, there's no doubting his potential.
But in the meantime, he needs to learn from the careers, and more importantly, the work ethic of less-gifted Arsenal legends such as Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg and remember this most priceless and relevant sporting lesson:
"Hard work beats talent, if talent doesn't work hard."