Theo Walcott has come back with a bang.
After aggravating an abdominal injury in the warm-up for the game with Stoke on September 22, Walcott missed two months of action. In that period, Arsenal managed well without him. The likes of Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Serge Gnabry all helped the Gunners cope without their flying winger.
Arsenal were so comfortable in Walcott's absence that, upon his return, he was introduced relatively slowly. The first five games of Walcott's comeback were as a substitute.
Even then there were flashes of his best. Introduced from the bench against Cardiff, Walcott sprinted the length of the pitch to provide an exhilarating assist for Aaron Ramsey.
Walcott was finally unleashed from the start at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City. It was a big call from Arsene Wenger: this was arguably the biggest game of Arsenal's season, and Walcott had only made a series of fleeting cameos since recovering from surgery.
However, Walcott did not disappoint. Although Arsenal ultimately lost the game 6-3, Walcott was Arsenal's best player on the day. He grabbed a brace, including the goal of the game: a beautiful clipped effort over City's 6'8" keeper Costel Pantilimon.
Since then, Walcott's momentum has simply grown. As any full-back who's ever tried to catch him will admit, once he gets going, he can be difficult to stop.
Although he was well-marshalled by Chelsea, he responded with another pair of goals at Upton Park. Goalkeeper Adrian will have been disappointed to concede the tamely struck opener, but Walcott later added an unstoppable second with the first header of his career. Scoring with his weaker left-foot and his head in the same game is a sure sign of Walcott's swelling confidence in front of goal.
In Arsenal's next game, Walcott demonstrated another side to his game. At St. James' Park, a perfectly clipped free-kick found Olivier Giroud, who promptly flicked home the only goal of the game.
By this stage, Walcott had five goals in 2013-14, but none of them had come at the Emirates Stadium. He put that right against Cardiff, setting the seal on the win with a glorious dinked finish.
It wasn't just his goal that impressed, though. Stationed on the right wing, Walcott produced a series of exceptional crosses. According to Squawka, he created six goalscoring chances against the Welsh team—his highest tally in any game so far this season.
Underpinning all this has been a growing sense that Walcott has arrived at a point of maturity. Although he is still only 24, his relative experience makes him one of the senior figures in the Arsenal squad. It's something that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has spotted too, telling Sky Sports, "Walcott was a kid. Now, he is a man."
His performance against City showed that he is not inhibited by the biggest occasions. Against Newcastle and West Ham, he made telling contributions in tricky circumstances.
When the chips were down, Walcott stepped up.
With Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner currently struggling with injuries, Walcott's goal threat is invaluable to Arsenal. He will now be looking to make an impact in their next big game: the FA Cup Third Round with Tottenham on Jan. 4.
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