Arsenal FC: Has the Polarizing Theo Walcott Turned a Corner?

Justin PedersenCorrespondent IIMarch 13, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12:   Theo Walcott of Arsenal waves to the fans at the final whistle during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on March 12, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

It seems that consistency is the hardest thing to come by nowadays in world football. 

Many of the world’s greatest clubs struggle with this notion and it seems that this season has defined such plights. From the respective leagues to the Champions League, many of the big boys are finding their tasks at hand to be a lot harder to complete.

Whether it is collective, or down to the play of certain individuals, forming some balance from here on out will determine many teams' plans for the 2012-2013 season.

Certainly a team like Arsenal, and more specifically Theo Walcott, has been dealing with this criticism since the first kickoff.

The Gunners are coming off a string of impressive performances though, which was culminated by a last-second victory over Newcastle United on Monday. While the team is sitting firmly with destiny in their hands, Wenger’s men have plenty more to accomplish as the season winds down.

And wherever the squad ends up in the table come final match day, the play of Theo Walcott will have a massive influence.

If there is anyone on Arsenal that personifies the club’s troubled, patchy performances up until this point, it is the 22 year old. Once touted as the England’s “next big thing,” Walcott has come a long way in quieting some cynical critiques.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Theo Walcott of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on February 26, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by
Clive Mason/Getty Images

At the start of this campaign, when the Gunners got off to a horrific start, the thought of young Theo turning a corner was an afterthought. A few weeks ago he was hearing relentless boos from his own fans during the North London derby.

It eventually got to the point where his manager considered subbing him off in order to combat the displeasure.

But instead of giving in, Wenger left the boy on and Theo repaid him in full. He ended that game on a high, bagging a brace and rekindling his reputation to the fans in a span of 45 minutes.

Ever since that Spurs game, Arsenal have been putting in some dramatic shifts and have won five league games in a row. More notably, Theo has stepped up and has been a focal point to their recent success.

Against Newcastle, Walcott put in arguably his best game ever in an Arsenal shirt. He constantly tormented his flank and I wouldn’t be surprised if the turf on that side is charred down to nothing but dirt.

NUFC’s Davide Santon was the victim to Walcott’s menace the entire first half and I wouldn’t be surprised if the young Italian loses sleep due to his frail performance. The former Inter defender looked out of his element against the winger and it prompted Alan Pardew to sub him off at the interval.

Walcott’s pace, ingenuity and direct play caused fits for the Toon and his deft assist to Robin Van Persie quickly cancelled out Hatem Ben Arfa’s strike after just 40 seconds. And just when it looked like a defiant Arsenal were headed for a draw, Theo popped up again to supply Thomas Vermaelen with a cross and the eventual winner.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 04:  Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie of Arsenal celebrate after scoring their second goal of the match during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers at Emirates Stadium on February 4, 2012 in Lo
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Relief, liberation, exhilaration—these are all words to describe the feelings of every person at the Emirates once Vermaelen scored. And I guarantee nobody felt them more than the speedy Walcott.

At just 22, it is astonishing to think how far Theo has come at such a young age. After coming up on the scene as a surprise selection at the 2006 World Cup, the spotlight has been on the England international ever since.

Pressure, expectations and the high demands of many looked like it was wearing on the young man, and it was noticeable on the pitch. But has he now started to deal with such burdens and get on track with his career?

I feel that this could be the case, and while I think he needs to continue this fine form until the end of the season, he could not have picked a better time to peak.

He has loads of talent and, more importantly, time to continue his developments. Once thought of as a footballer with no footballing IQ, his movement is getting much better and it comes down to the support of his teammates, coaches and fans.

It is rather unfair to come down so hard on Theo in retrospect, due to the fact that he was propelled into the limelight much too early. Fans of the Gunners hope the same thing doesn’t happen to his compatriot Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but judging by the 18-year-old’s displays so far, I hardly think that will be the case.

This game against Newcastle will surely go a long way in guiding Theo and boosting his confidence, and I know his manager will make sure he pushes himself to stay at this level. It seems criminal to underplay the likes of Bacary Sagna, Thomas Vermaelen, Robin Van Persie and Tomas Rosicky against Toon, but Walcott was quite deservedly the Man of the Match.

Arsenal still have a lot of work to do if they expect to salvage this rollercoaster of a season, but they are doing and saying all the right things. With the gap between themselves and Chelsea stretching to three points and noisy neighbors Spurs just a point adrift, Theo and the boys will push to the very end.

Walcott will be the first to admit that his form to date hasn’t been up to his own high standards, but currently brimming with confidence and his recent contributions not going unnoticed, he may be on his way to coming full circle.

Besides, Theo said it himself: it’s not how you start, but how you finish.

Coincidentally, that saying resonates to both Arsenal’s season and the 22-year-old’s career.


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