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The beady, watching eye of the media has never been far away from the career of Theo Walcott ever since he burst onto the scene at the tender age of 16 at Southampton. A highly rated prospect at youth level, Walcott was only on the south coast at full senior level for half a season before Arsenal came calling with a big money move, thrusting him into the limelight. A raw, pacey youngster with natural technical ability, Walcott entrusted his development to Arsene Wenger, one of the English games most respected managers. However, over a decade on from his initial breakthrough and big move, has Walcott fulfilled all of that untapped potential which Wenger was enticed by?
During his Gunners career, Walcott always seemed to be on the cusp of greatness without ever really threatening to grasp it. Being selected by Sven-Göran Eriksson for the 2006 World Cup before he’d even turned out at Highbury was a move which had his future development in mind, with the ideology that it would serve as an advantage for someone who was clearly going to be an international mainstay of the future. Looking back, this couldn’t have been further from the truth, with media attention only intensifying for the teenager. Despite this, he made a reasonable enough start to his Arsenal career the following season, albeit without scoring in the Premier League.
Reasonable is a term which could be used to discuss the majority of Walcott’s tenure in North London, with opinions often being split on his mercurial talents. The main debate over Walcott’s Arsenal career was often regarding his best position, with Wenger preferring to utilise Walcott’s explosive pace on the flanks. Walcott has always maintained that his preferable position is down the middle as a striker, however, the opportunity for Walcott to shine in a central position consistently never seemed to arrive. During the Gunners 2012/13 season, Walcott was the club’s top scorer with 21 goals and 13 assists in all competitions, including some impressive spells in his favoured position. Walcott scored an excellent hat-trick in a staggering cup tie at Reading, before registering another hat-trick in a festive fixture against Newcastle to strengthen his case for a central role in Wenger’s attack.
After enjoying by far the most productive season of his career, Walcott was struck with misfortune, initially with a minor abdominal problem before suffering a season ending ruptured anterior cruciate ligament knee injury in the FA cup tie with Spurs which has become iconic for the image of Walcott taunting Spurs fans as he was carried off the pitch. An extensive road to recovery would lie ahead, with the harsh truth being that perhaps we haven’t really seen the player we had glimpses of in that previous season since that devastating injury.
The following season was again disrupted by injuries and spells out of the starting squad, with Walcott fading out of the thoughts of many as his Arsenal career dragged to an eventual end, bar a brief renaissance in his final season.
Overall, Walcott represented Arsenal on 397 occasions, with 145 of those coming from the bench, boasting 108 goals in all competitions. Respectable stats, but considering the raw potential that was so evident back in 2006, should there have been more? On one hand, this could be seen as harsh. After all, in the history of the club, only 14 players have more goals for the club than Walcott. But it’s another statistic via the official Premier League site really drives home the debate on Walcott’s career – He has scored 71 Premier League goals throughout his career, to date, but he has missed 72 ‘big chances.’ A stat which makes for relatively damning reading for a player with such confidence in his ability to be the main man up front for a side consistently challenging for success on four fronts yearly.
Some of the stats regarding Walcott further points towards inconsistency rather than one of reliability and a case can also be made that this is a fair interpretation of his international tenure. Despite at times being limited in minutes on the pitch in varying positions, a return of 8 international goals from 47 England caps is one which should be abundantly higher. Since being selected for the World Cup squad as a teenager, there has been an apparent expectation perhaps for phenomenal things from Walcott in an England shirt, which at times has seemed to be the literal millstone around his neck. Walcott has always been on the periphery in his England career, with various managers using him fleetingly, despite being a regular in squads when fit.
It could be said that England fans are perhaps the harshest critics of all with the ongoing deliberations over Wayne Rooney’s England career, England’s all-time leading scorer, a prime example. Yet in Walcott’s case, it’s hard to make a case for anything over than a direct parallel with his domestic career. All of the promise and expectation seems to have stalled without sufficient fruition, from a man who in advanced forward positions would be expected to deliver goals. When you factor in this was in a generation where increasingly common meetings with international minnows has become the occurrence, the numbers regarding Walcott’s England career leave a somewhat regretful ambience.
Now approaching his 30th birthday, Walcott is nearing the twilight of his peak years at Everton with steady yet unspectacular returns again from a wide position. Looking back on his career, despite the stop-start nature with some serious injuries as he hit his best form, Walcott could have perhaps benefited from pastures new before his eventual move to Merseyside to really make the most of his prime years. The debate over the correlation of Walcott’s potential and his achievements will most likely rumble on throughout the years, with conclusions likely to be as assorted as Walcott’s career.