Every single time I post anything about anything on Twitter I get the following questions:
- What do you think of Morata?
- Should we sell Walcott/Ox/etc?
My Answers are always:
- Never seen him play football
- No comment
The Walcott one is starting to bother me, though. Walcott is a player who has never so much as come within a millimeter of uniting fan opinion. His entire 10 year career at Arsenal has been nothing but a long exercise in dividing opinions.
Walcott, however, does join two things. He is the last remaining player to have practiced with Thierry Henry and the other legends from the invincibles era. He is the last remaining player from the Highbury era and connects the old stadium to the new.
Walcott is 27 years old. He has played in 354 Arsenal matches. He has scored 85 goals for Arsenal. In 10 seasons that’s an average of 35 matches a season and 8.5 goals. Not bad for a player who cost just £12m and who spent his almost his entire career on the right side of midfield.
It’s interesting to compare the reception that Tomas Rosicky received on his ten year anniversary at Arsenal to the calumny that Walcott has received on his ten years. At the same time that people have penned paeans to the joy of Rosicky others have called for Walcott to be tossed away like an old piece of fruit.
Rosicky we are reminded scored beautiful goals against Tottenham. I will never forget the moment Rosicky’s hair caught afire as he streaked down the right against Spurs and then with flames at his heels, collected a dropped pass from OX and blasted an unstoppable right footer into the left side netting.
Meanwhile, Walcott has also scored important goals against Tottenham. Walcott’s most punished teams are Newcastle (6), Tottenham (5), and Chelsea (5). Walcott’s had his iconic moments against Spurs and Chelsea as well. Have we forgotten the goal in the 5-3 win over Chelsea, where he was fouled and then just got back up, dribbled into the Chelsea 18 yard box and beat Petr Cech at the near post?
Also, not just in scoring goals, Walcott is remembered for coming off the pitch and holding up two fingers for the jeering Spurs fans. Not two fingers in a vic, two fingers to represent the score: 2-0 to the Arsenal.
Both players spent the majority of their careers out injured. Actually, Rosicky spent most of his Arsenal career, the last 8 years, injured. In his first two seasons at Arsenal he started 40 times and scored 13 goals. Then he spent an entire season out injured. And when he did manage to come back, he wasn’t the same. In the last seven seasons he has averaged just 16 starts a season and only scored 15 goals.
I’m not having a go at Tomas Rosicky. I love what he brought to the team (on and off the pitch) and I feel the same sense of loss that you do about his unfortunate injury. But can’t you say the exact same thing about Walcott?
Walcott reached his peak in 2012/13 when he scored 21 goals for Arsenal in all competitions. Arsenal fans expected him to “kick on” the next season, but that was cut short with the first knee injury. Then the next season, the same problem.
And at age 26, after two knee surgeries and spending the majority of the last two years in the treatment room, Theo Walcott mounted a comeback. He played 42 games for Arsenal this season, starting 22 times and scoring 9 goals.
He seems to have lost his speed this year. He also had many performances where he looked distracted or where he simply did moronic things with the ball like trying to Maradona an entire team and instead turning the ball over. And he was often in games where you had a hard time remembering him contributing anything.
All perfectly legitimate criticisms. He had a poor season by any Arsenal standard.
It’s also difficult to see where he can improve his game. At this age there isn’t much time left for Walcott to change his game. He’s a roadrunner who has lost his step. He’s not going to turn into a hold up player. He thrives when Arsenal play counter attacking football and he has lots of space to run into. It’s no surprise that his best game of the season was in the wildly open back and forth match at the King Power Stadium. Arsenal won 5-2 and Walcott opened the scoring for the Gunners, drawing the Arsenal level at 1-1.
The goal was an insanely Walcott goal: Cazorla slotted between the two center backs, Walcott picked up the pass and moving to his left, shot back across the keeper to the right. It wasn’t a beautiful goal, it looked a bit scruffy, but it was the kind of goal Walcott has scored his entire life at Arsenal.
He also had a man of the match performance in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Man City in December. But then there was a string of poor performances and when Alexis returned from injury, Walcott was benched.
If I were to venture a guess at what happened with Walcott it would be that he didn’t live up to our expectations. He has spent his entire career being compared to Thierry Henry. When he was selected for the World Cup in 2006, the England coaches said ”
He is quicker than Henry apparently and I’ve seen him in youth games where he is exceptionally quick. I’ve not seen a race between the two of them but according to tests he is quicker than Henry now. If he is then that is some talent.
Walcott’s signature goal scoring move is also very Henry-esque. He likes to attack the left side of the box and open his body up for the right-footed shot across the keeper. And of course, he wears the number 14 on his back.
But Walcott isn’t Thierry Henry, obviously. And he isn’t going to be the kind of player that people want. He’s not going to fit into an Arsenal system that demands technically perfect players operating in tight spaces. He’s more of a Shane Long type of player, or a Vardy type, someone who does his best work when he’s got the whole field in front of him.
So, should Arsenal sell Walcott?
Why? He still provides some value to the club. He is a speedy striker and when teams come to play against Arsenal, he can be used to run at them and give the opposition defenders fits. I don’t care how much money he makes. Arsenal have £100m in the bank. They just reaped £100m in TV money and next season they will get £160m in TV money. Arsenal are one of the richest clubs in the world and can afford to pay Walcott £8m a year if they want. He’s British, he’s homegrown, he’s the last remaining player with a connection to the Arsenal Invincibles, and he’s not a player who will cause problems in the locker room.
The only reason I can see Arsene Wenger selling Theo is if Theo wants to be sold. See, Walcott has a huge black mark on his career. He was chosen for the 2006 World Cup and has missed out on going with the England National team to every major tournament since. At age 27 he has to be looking at the 2018 World Cup, when he will be 29 years old, as his last chance to play for England. He’s never going to be the main man for Arsenal. He will always be a bit player from now on out. So, if he wants to go to Russia in 2018, I think he has to demand a move to a club like West Ham or somewhere that can play the style of football that suits his abilities, back to Southampton perhaps.
So, I’m in favor of keeping him, while knowing that he’s just going to be a bit-part player for Arsenal. He’s never going to be the star striker that Arsenal need and so I’m also in favor of letting him go if that’s what he wants. Just don’t @ me on twitter when he scores 18 goals a season for some other club.