Theo Walcott has covered a lot of ground in his short career. From Southampton's bright young thing to speedboat without a driver, England's savior and now Arsenal contract rebel, the 23-year-old is a footballer whose standing changes with the seasons.
What is Walcott? Sometimes, he's a force of nature; other times, it appears nature had something else in mind when they set jet engines to power those hamstrings.
"There's no substitute for raw pace," will come the obligatory pundit pitch to get us excited whenever his name is dropped. The irony, of course, is that Walcott is the substitute these days, having started eight of Arsenal's 10 games this season alongside Arsene Wenger in the dugout.
He's not happy about it, which is understandable. He's not happy with Wenger, either, having made repeated claims to a forward role at Arsenal, and seemingly hinged his future at the club upon whether he's allowed to return to a position he briefly flourished in as a 16-year-old.
In August, Walcott turned down a new five-year contract worth £75,000/week. With a year left on his deal, was he about to go all Samir Nasri on the club who bet big on him as a teenager? Was Walcott, for all the humility of his public persona, just as sick with greed as the rest of them?
Or was it really all about satisfying the striker inside him? Said Walcott, as per BBC Sport:
"I've been judged, with people saying it's all about money. It's never been that with me. Playing up front is important. It's one of the main factors for me."
And with that, the young winger crossed (with unusual accuracy) for his manager. And Wenger did exactly as all the best managers do in these situations—he managed to say something and nothing at the same time.
"I'm not against it, I'm not against it at all but we try and at the moment there is big competition up front, we have a different formula and the team is doing well," Wenger said, as per BBC Sport. "He is a great finisher now, in front of goal he is really absolutely amazing."
Walcott, striker, blah. And with that, his thoughts drifted off to Santi Cazorla's latest masterclass.
Of course, it could happen at Arsenal. It's not that much of stretch to see Walcott as an alternative to Gervinho in that role, though many would argue the demands on a central forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation call for a player who can do a lot more than turn on the afterburners and finish.
Theo Walcott: pretty good at football. Not brilliant, not terrible. Just pretty good.— Alex Chick (@alexchick81) October 6, 2012
To the same token, those very attributes—the fundamentals on which Walcott must be valued—are perhaps best suited to the wide attacking role in the three behind the lone forward.
Wenger will not be alone is seeing Walcott that way. Manchester City and Chelsea have both been linked with January moves for him, but can you really see either using Walcott centrally, ahead of the likes of Sergio Aguero and Fernando Torres?
Any transfer is a risk. Buying a player and then deploying him somewhere other than where he's spent virtually his entire senior career...now that's a big risk.
Liverpool are another club said to be interested, and probably the most viable option if Walcott wants to play regularly. But again, it's hard to see Brendan Rodgers viewing Walcott as anything other than a wingman for Luis Suarez.
Moreover, Liverpool is arguably a step backwards. Arsenal are in the Champions League and have a fighting chance of being there next season. Liverpool are a club in transition and unlikely to be back at the top table for a few years yet.
So where does that leave Walcott's future? And where does it leave his ambitions of playing as a central striker?
If he thinks things through, it's obvious. Arsenal are by far his best option, and Walcott would do very well to accept their terms and continue his evolution under the manager who knows him better than anyone.
There's still hope for Walcott to be the player he hinted at all those years ago. But he won't get there any quicker by sitting on the bench elsewhere. And he won't get there until he accepts that his best position is the one his manager plays him in.
In Arsene we trust, as they say at Arsenal. Walcott would do well to listen.
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