Jury Remains Out On Walcott, But Theo Needs Time
As The Gunners digest a rare home defeat this season, on Monday night at The Emirates versus Swansea City, the brunt of the criticism has rather unfairly, seemingly been aimed at the feet of Arsenal forward, Theo Walcott.
Making his third substitute appearance since returning from an extended absence, the Arsenal attacker has failed to find the net since coming back, albeit with only 34 minutes under his belt. Walcott's problem is not finding the spaces, it is utilising them and it effectively. He found the space but once more failed to create any real spark for The Gunners who sought a differing dimension. Walcott is currently player bereft of confidence and it showed. Understandably so.
Furthermore, Walcott has only scored twice this campaign, both coming inside nine days back in February. Walcott has, in recent years, divided many and now, his contribution - or lack thereof - is a constant source of consternation for the North Londoner's fanbase. Which in truth, has been the case for much of his career since moving from Southampton in 2006.
That initial £12m move itself seems a distant memory. This summer, Walcott, 26, will have spent nine years at Arsenal and comes under further and rather more pointed scrutiny from all sides. Walcott is no stranger to criticism. Perhaps most famously, from Match of the Day's Alan Hansen, who in 2010 - on the back of scoring a hattrick versus Newcastle - stated Walcott had no 'football brain'. Hansen himself said he regrets making such comments but more widely, whether accurate or not, it cannot be refuted that Walcott is often anonymous on the big occasions for Arsenal.
Injury has not aided the Reading-born player's cause. Whenever Theo Walcott seemed to approach any semblance of consistency and form, he was struck down with long-term ailments. This campaign in particular, has been punctuated by injury, with the winger having played just 336 minutes of domestic football since sustaining an ACL injury in last season's FA Cup third round, versus fierce North London rivals Spurs, last January.
The worrying thing for a player the ilk of Walcott - with particular reference to his speed - is everytime the forward breaks down, his pace diminishes. It seems now the image of his electric pace tearing up the Championship for The Saints, seem a thing of the past. Not only has his agility has been affected, but his overall development has been hindered by niggling injuries.
When not absent, Walcott's numbers in recent years have risen, but have now dipped rather alarmingly. Having scored 9 goals in the 2010/11 campaign, his tally was once less the term after, but with three more assists to his collection. Then followed his most successful campaign. In 2012/13, Walcott allotted 14 goals and 13 assists in 2,286 minutes of league action which incidentally, was less than his total for the previous season. Last campaign, despite reduced appearances after injury, Walcott only added five goals and assists. Theo has struggled as of late, but is all the criticism justified?
This past week, Arsene Wenger came out and backed his under-fire forward suggesting he was on the brink of his 'golden years'. Perhaps his manager is correct. We only have to look back at the career of Aaron Ramsey to see a reformed character and one that even today has a different mold he operates in.
When the Welshman suffered his infamous double-leg break at the hands of the over-zealous Ryan Shawcross versus Stoke, it took two complete seasons for the midfielder to shake the horrors from his mind and resume his indomitable form. However, Ramsey had age on his side and was a mere burgeoning youth at 20 years old. Ramsey has now picked up where he left off.
With Walcott in his mid-twenties, one has though, to take into account the healing capabilities of his body, being perhaps not being what they were in his formative years. Then there is whether he can recover his hare-like pace that Arsenal purchased him for initially. Pre-season, the emphasis on Walcott's teammate Jack Wilshere was for him to have an uninterrupted program, of which he did and showed signs of his best, but again was missing for large swathes of the campaign, which like Walcott, has allowed other members of the squad to cement their places in the starting XI.
This is going to be Walcott's big problem. The longer it takes for him to integrate himself back into the starting berth picture, the tougher his task will be. It was always going to be a bridge too far to expect a miracle assimilation after 12 months out. Theo Walcott needs time. But unfortunately for him, time in football does not pass wthout change.
With Arsenal now beginning to look the real deal, certainly in midfield quarters with the likes of Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and Ramsey at their disposal, the immediate future looks rosey and with rumours of Raheem Sterling being added this summer it can only get better. Theo Walcott's task this summer will be to stay fit first and foremost, but then to have a solid pre-season. Theo should always have been efffectively written off for the remainder of the 2014/15 season. The comeback trail has been too long and as we as seen with fellow ACL sufferer, Radamel Falcao, not exactly clear sailing.
Should Theo Walcott have a good period before the 2015/16 campaign commences, he and Arsenal can be confident of a fruitful contribution. Indeed, as his manager Wenger states, his golden years may be ahead of him. If he does recover the player he was, but still shows signs of struggle he may be forced into continued spells on the bench where his confidence is likely to plummet.
It is then we may have to ask serious questions over Theo Walcott.