Following the breakthrough of Cesc Fàbregas in the summer of 2004, Arsène Wenger’s footballing vision changed. Arsenal went from a side filled with physical, athletic warriors; to a tiki-taka replica, with a focus on youth.
Fast forward 18 months and Theo Walcott was the name on everyone’s lips. His performances for Southampton, which included scoring a delicious 30-yard chip, had the footballing world talking, with his pacey style earning comparisons to the king: Thierry Henry.
Enter Arsenal who, after some scouting, signed Walcott in January 2006, along with Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Adebayor. All three represented a new generation for the Gunners. Three players with vast potential and the promise of continued success post-Highbury.
And for a few years the future looked bright. Arsenal reached the League Cup final in 2007 – the club’s first season at the Emirates – and played Chelsea off the park, with Abou Diaby knocking out John Terry. It also marked Walcott’s first goal for the club: a Henry-esque finish against a hapless Petr Cech.
Despite a 2-1 defeat, pundits raved that this young Arsenal team would dominate English football for years to come. But as we all know, that hasn’t quite worked out…
One by one, Wenger’s talented young stars fled the nest in search of the trophies that Arsenal failed to deliver. All but one – Theo Walcott.
12 years, 107 goals and three FA Cups later, Walcott is still at Arsenal. And that is where the issue lies. Theo Walcott has never delivered on his early promise. He’s had great moments, exhilarating performances and periods that have made people believe he has finally reached his potential – but he’s never hit the expected heights. Much like Arsenal during the Emirates era.
Since the move to the Emirates, Arsenal have produced stunning football and long winning streaks but, amongst this, the club has been stained with inconsistency and ‘bottled’ it when it’s mattered most. These efforts have been personified by Walcott, whose career has been a picture of inconsistency.
During this time, Arsenal have been accused of lacking desire. Ironically, it was Walcott who admitted that Crystal Palace were ‘more up for it’ during last season’s defeat – a truly outrageous statement.
A lack of ability has never been an issue for Theo Walcott. His goal scoring record as a Premier League winger is fantastic, even when he’s not starting on a regular basis. His issue – like Arsenal’s issue over the last 12 years – has been mentality: concentration and desire.
Much like the contract situations with Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez currently, Arsenal had a similar situation with Theo, when he ran down his contract and eventually strong-armed the club into paying his £110,000-per-week wage. Sadly, that £110,000 weekly salary seems the only thing Walcott cares about now.
This money grabbing mentality is echoed at board level, with Stan Kroenke refusing to put a penny into the club and running it purely as a money-making business. The motivation to win trophies has evaporated, just like Walcott’s motivation to make the starting Xl, with end of year figures and a paltry FA Cup appearing to be enough to keep the board happy.
With the recent backroom shakeup, Arsenal are entering into what will hopefully be a new era, and Theo Walcott’s time must surely be up. Recent reports have linked him to Everton, Southampton and West Ham. At 29 years old, a move must surely suit both parties.