It's quite surprising, when you think about it, that one of the ever-presents in Arsenal's squad last season is garnering almost no attention this campaign.
I am not talking of Robin van Persie, who continues to remind his former side of his betrayal on a weekly basis. Nor am I referring to Alex Song, whose ego grew so large it reached the Camp Nou.
Each of these players had contract disputes that received a great deal of publicity and eventually led them out of the Emirates Stadium, but Theo Walcott's similar situation has still not been resolved.
This past summer was supposed to be, and was, to some extent, Walcott's and Van Persie's to command. Both were entering the final year of their Arsenal deals and therefore, a resolution would be reached by the two—for better or worse.
For the Dutchman, one was, as we all know. Then the focus turned to his main service provider, Walcott, who was in a much trickier position.
Unless his ego surpasses Nicklas Bendtner's in size, he must know that he was not nearly as valuable an asset last season as Van Persie. Instead, he frustrated and excited in equal measure, producing one occasional moment of unequaled brilliance that made us forget his previous three inept performances.
Yet this has not stopped Walcott from being arrogant enough to continue to hold out for better terms.
Days and weeks passed before the summer transfer window ended promptly on September 1, but nothing was ever done. In fact, a deal was so far from being reached that we stopped talking or thinking about this precarious situation completely.
Walcott did start the first game of Arsenal's new season against Sunderland and was, well, himself. One time out of 10 he touched the ball would be quite encouraging, but he was once again more of a liability than an asset.
Then, as mobsters say, he disappeared.
Arsene Wenger has used Walcott as a bit-part member of his squad, but the Englishman has fallen significantly from the automatic starter role he occupied during last season.
How much of Wenger's reasoning has been based on the ongoing contract dispute is unknowable, but it's hard to believe that the stalemate has not played a part in Walcott's recent reminder of his place in the larger Arsenal organization.
Equally as significant, however, is the fact that the team is simply better and deeper than it was a year ago. The manager now has more tactical freedom than he has in a long time due to the versatility and quality of Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and, as we saw against Manchester City, Aaron Ramsey.
Indeed, Arsenal have flourished without Theo Walcott in the starting lineup. Podolski, while not a revelation, has been a force to be reckoned with on the left side, Gervinho has bagged multiple goals and assists despite frustrating and exciting in equal measure and Ramsey's performance against City was massively encouraging.
This trio of recently used attackers does not even include Olivier Giroud, who, when he gets off the mark, should be a first-class Premier League center forward, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose continued development is making it more and more difficult for Wenger to leave him on the bench.
Yet, as it becomes more apparent by the match that Arsenal don't need Walcott, he grows more and more vocal in his unsubstantiated and contrived opinions.
Speaking recently, he said (via The Independent):
That speculation on the money side of it has never been me. That's not me. I'm not the sort of person who's influenced by money. I always make my decisions based on football and only football.
Okay. Somehow I am disinclined to believe that his motivations are solely football-related and that, unlike every other modern star than Arsenal fans have become painfully well acquainted with recently, Walcott's intentions are pure as snow.
He goes on to say:
It is a case of having trust in me up front. I was signed as a striker and it is about time, I want to play up front. I have learnt my game on the wing. When you look at what I did last year I think I can do even more. Hopefully I will be given the opportunity. I am desperate for it.
Now, I don't have the footballing mind of Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson, but, from my armchair, I have seen absolutely nothing to indicate that Walcott should be playing up front.
His technical skills are quite subpar for the level that he plays at: His finishing is erratic at best, he is unable to head the ball effectively and he is effectively neutralized by defences that sit deep and do not allow Arsenal space.
That doesn't sound like the kind of player who is going to take the place of actual center forwards.
I do agree with Walcott on one point, though. I did see what he did last year, and I believe that he can do a whole lot more and perform significantly better this campaign, simply because there is so much room for improvement.
If Walcott continues down this path, however, and more or less demands a change of position and tells the manager where he should play, he might as well leave his boots at home.
It certainly looks like he's taking his first steps, even mentioning how "disappointed" he will be if, somehow, nothing can be sorted.
Arsene Wenger agrees. He realizes that, not only should Theo Walcott not be allowed to start based on the form he has exhibited most of the time, the Englishman could use a giant helping of humble pie to tamp down that false superstar ego.
But, at the end of the day, the question the manager must ask himself is whether his side can win without a man who was a near constant presence last season.
And the answer, most decidedly, is yes. Walcott should play some role in the team and be called upon to contribute when needed (as he has been multiple times this season), but Arsenal are easily good enough to win without another overconfident prima donna.
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