Arsenal have prepared for the sounding of the 2014/15 Premier League starting gun by adding a cornucopia of talents to their ranks—yet one of this season's key players for the Gunners might well be a winger who's been in north London longer than virtually everyone else.
Theo Walcott has been with Arsenal since January 2006—only Abou Diaby has been at the club for longer—and while his 2013/14 season was cruelly hampered by a cruciate injury, he consistently showed flashes of excellence. Had he been fit for the campaign's entirety, he may well have threatened Aaron Ramsey's position as Arsenal's Player of the Year.
Squawka provides insight into how Walcott's season may have turned out had he maintained peak fitness. Of a quintet featuring himself, Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, Ramsey and new Gunner Alexis Sanchez, Walcott recorded more assists, chances created and total shots per 90 minutes than anyone else—and only Cazorla recorded more key passes per 90, and by a whisker at that.
Those categories and figures in key attacking contributions suggest that Walcott could have had an excellent year, providing he avoided knocks and maintained that excellent vein of form.
The assists and chances created, as well as the excellent stats for key passes, are of particular interest considering the immense success he was enjoying in an advanced, right-sided role—a position almost universally considered his best while not his own personal favourite.
Who will be Arsenal's most important player this season?
What's done is done, and a look to the future beckons for Walcott. The winger is expected back in full training by the end of August, per BBC Sport, and should Arsenal's No. 14 be able to not only replicate last season's standards but cultivate them, too, his return to first-team action will be an immeasurable boost to Arsene Wenger's team.
The Chilean Sanchez might well deputise on the right wing in Walcott's absence, but once the England international returns to the fold, the former Barcelona man may well switch sides to allow for Walcott's return.
From there, Arsenal can provide Giroud with phenomenal service and goalscoring opportunities in spades—that's without even mentioning the sparks of creativity and excitement that Mesut Ozil in the No. 10 role can provide.
Walcott, like Sanchez, possesses pace as a key element of his armoury—in the Englishman's case, it's almost certainly his signature armament. Combined with his movement, Walcott is a nightmare for defenders to track and mark successfully, which draws attention away from his cohorts Alexis and Ozil.
These runs are augmented with Walcott's finishing, which can be clinical and even lethal in the right circumstances, which only enhance the threat he entails with the ball at his feet. Putting it mildly, defenders don't want Walcott anywhere near the ball.
This not only proves Walcott as a danger in possession, but his movement and trickery will provide a myriad of opportunities for his colleagues, especially Giroud, who is at his best with his back to goal or in plenty of space—space that can be provided by the attention-drawing Walcott.
It's not solely hyperbole that argues these points. In the 13 league games Walcott featured in last season, the Gunners were triumphant in nine and defeated in just two, displaying the direct correlation between Arsenal's success and Walcott's impressive form.
Thirteen games might not be all that much to go on, but Walcott has threatened to become one of Wenger's most trusted and consistent performers for some time now. With a clean bill of health this campaign, Walcott can finally resume the objective of proving himself as the foremost wide man not only at club level, but internationally as well, with Euro 2016 qualification in England's headlights.
When Walcott plays, Arsenal are a better team. With a squad rich in quality and newly found depth, Arsenal can surround Walcott with a treasure trove of quality, making him one of Wenger's most significant stars in the process.
All stats provided by Squawka unless otherwise stated.
What do you predict for Walcott's 2014/15 campaign? Let me know. Leave a comment below, or start the debate on Twitter.