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It Was A Big Season For...

It Was A Big Season For...

Following on from yesterday`s progress report on Abou Diaby, the second of my pre season articles focussed on someone all too familiar with the scrutiny of the soda light. Theodore Walcott has run the gauntlet between doe eyed teen sweetheart of the British press and of Goonerdom, to the sacrificial voodoo doll of both. Walcott seems to have experienced the backlash of over egged expectations from the very people that set those hyperbolic expectations in the first place. Such is the wont of the British press and it won`t be long before Wilshere feels the bitter sting of acid tongues. The odd decent cross when he was 18 set meteoric standards for Theo to live up to, so that the odd shanked cross now he`s 21 is met with 1,000 word perorations on how rubbish he is. As ever with these situations, the truth lies somewhere in between for those that can be bothered to examine the evidence.

So what of Walcott`s progress in 2009-10? Last summer I said I felt it was time for "the water wings to come off…the apron strings need to be cut." Yet the truth is, we appear to be little clearer on where Walcott stands. This is largely due to an injury hit season caused in no small part by Theo being forced to take part in a completely useless U-21 International tournament. (Without looking it up, can anyone actually tell me what that tournament was called?) It is utterly laughable that U-21 internationals, which have always gone under the banner of development and nurturing, should be allowed to wilfully enervate a player`s progress in the way this Mickey Mouse Cup was allowed to with Theo who- lest we forget- was already a regular in the full international side at that point. So Walcott, as Wenger sagely predicted, sat out the first two months of the season due to injury. Within minutes of his return in the league game at home to Birmingham in October, a stiff Liam Ridgewell challenge ensured another few weeks on the sidelines. He was in and out of the side with niggling injuries through November and December and, understandably, unable to establish any rhythm in the side. When he did play, his performances were often underwhelming, showing a lack of chemistry with the side and his final ball lacked confidence and authority.

It`s only justifiable to judge Theo from February onwards. The trouble is that his form from February onwards has been jarringly inconsistent. Injuries to key attacking personnel gave him an extended run in the side at the tail end of the campaign. But whilst there were excellent performances, for instance his almost single handed dismantling of Burnley (had Bendtner worn football boots and not flip flops that day, Walcott`s assists tally for the season would have doubled), just 24 hours after Chris Waddle had accused him very publicly of 2not understanding the game" following an unimpressive outing in some international friendly or other. (Seriously, can anyone remember who these friendlies are against more than five minutes after they`re finished? I would wager they`re forgotten quicker than Big Brother contestants). There was also the riveting cameo against Barcelona, when young Theo came on with Arsenal looking disconsolate at 2 goals down and promptly frightened the bejesus out of Maxwell and scored one and was instrumental in winning the penalty that levelled the tie at 2-2. That memory plagued Abidal too when Walcott set up Bendtner`s goal in the Nou Camp.

It`s perhaps instructive that some of Theo`s most destructive displays have occurred in the Champions League where he is more of an unknown quantity and his pace alone is enough to scare continental defences. However, one of the chief bugbears of Walcott is that he has still yet to shake off the impression that he can excel in any starting role, instead the tag "super sub" is to damn him with feint praise. When playing from the start, Theo often makes a difference early on- for instance at Ewood Park when his searing pace put a chance on a plate for Carlos Vela, at Barcelona he looked electric for twenty minutes before Abidal and then Maxwell comfortably pocketed him. Arsene`s own public assessment at the end of the season was to declare that Theo needed to take a less perfunctory role over the course of a full 90 minutes. However, there have been notable improvements in the technical aspects of Theo`s game. He no longer puts his head down and charges blindly to the by-line every single time he gets the ball now, he often checks inside when necessary. His touch, which once made me wince every time a short three yard pass over pristine turf bounced up his shin, has improved immeasurably as has his distribution.

An aspect of Theo`s game which is super consistent is the quality of his runs. He is always on the half turn on the shoulder of the last defender and he is aware enough to stay onside. (Though if you have Walcott`s pace, there really is no earthly need to be offside). This will certainly serve him well when he makes the move to central striker. His final ball still needs work though, we`ve seen that he is capable of producing- some of his crosses for Bendtner in the Burnley match were inch perfect. That he has been coached to make such devastating runs, so well timed would seem to derivate from the popular assertion that Theo has no football brain. The fact is, Theo is still a player that can frustrate the living hell out of you for 85 minutes, but he still has the wild card quality to tear a defence apart in one moment of brilliance in a big game. That is why Wenger and Capello keep picking him; they tolerate swathes of averageness in his game for those moments of inspiration. Those moments win you big games and bigger prizes. In that sense, Theo is still the same player we had 12 months ago. But the improvements he has made allied with a better run of fitness next year stands him in good stead to be a much better player in May 2011.LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday May 27 2010
Time: 3:24PM


Nice stuff again LD, thank you. He frustrates the living hell out of me, but at the same time, lifts me out of my seat. I take your point that he runs with his head ' up ', but still finds himself in cul-de-sacs at times. I am never convinced that he is in complete control of the ball at any given time, and far too often, looks like a 200m athlete that's been thrown into a football team. A nice show in the World Cup will do him the world of good and I hope he gets through the tournament unscathed. I am looking forward to seeing him next season, but I still have my doubts about him. Very BIG doubts, unfortunately. Sometimes I wonder that if we hadn't have spent so much money on him, would he still be with us ??
Cockney Rich
27/05/2010 15:38:00
That's 2 players in a row known for generating high levels of frustration among gooners, LD. I sense a theme here. :-) Great read. I just want to see Theo given a good run in the team without these damned injuries he's always picking up. Just hope the wc doesn't affect him or any of our players. BTW, I'm pretty sure that youth tournament he played in last summer was the U21 European championships. Not that I care much.
27/05/2010 16:02:00
I think Theo has improved at the tail end of the season. We are getting a bit more out of him even when his contributions aren't as explosive as they can be. It's easy to dismiss his age as relevant as he seems to have been around for a while but in order to measure where he is now it is worth noting that enough fuss is being made about the prospects of promising youngsters like Adam Johnson who is the best part of 2 years older than Theo. 2 years more experience and development could see Theo finding ways of contributing more in a game than just his pace. There are times when this lack of contribution costs us in games But like Cesc and Cristiano Ronaldo before him he is now approaching a point where the extra power that natural physical development will give him may allow him to produce more. I certainly hope so - you can, at too few times at the moment, see the player that he could be.
27/05/2010 16:09:00
Theo's decision making is still a big problem. He's accustomed to shooting from outside the box now, unlike many others, but I recall too many clear cut chances he has ducked - only to be follwed by a lashed attempt soon after to try to make amends. This can only improve with age, but at this point he has too many flaws to be considered anything other than a luxury player.
27/05/2010 16:28:00
But Wenger doesnt keep picking him does he, he keeps picking boobie in his place. Theo's the most overrated player of our generation imo. Hes decent, hes fast as buggery. But not worth 1 tenth of the hype surely? its not just his final ball is it, its his whole demeanor, he cant control a football in a Oba Martins kinda way, he cant tackle, cross, doesnt get involved enough either. Capello like all of us is still blown away by theat hatrick in Croatia, but 1 swallow doesnt make a summer. He is very young though and maybe im being too overly critical, as i remember Lennon at his age being abit on and off.
27/05/2010 18:39:00
On his day he is a very good player but how rarely his day comes about lately must be concerning. I'm highly critical of Theo because of the high standards you Arsenal fans and the media have set for him. In my opinion at the moment he has nothing more to his game than unbelievable pace and unfortunately being fast doesn't make you a great player. I dont believe he should be put into the world cup squad, there are so many more players who can play that right hand side better than what he can.
27/05/2010 18:41:00
Just wondering LD if you'll write a piece about Vermaelen. It's obviously meant to be a big season for him, having made the step up from Holland to England. Here's part of Keown's views about him:
27/05/2010 19:01:00
Would he be going to the World Cup if he wasn't playing for Arsenal? Not a ******** chance. He'd be nowhere near the squad. Darren Bent must wonder what he has to do. Not play for Sunderland seems to be the answer.
Tony Rocky Horror
27/05/2010 19:14:00
Or produce on the big stage? Which Walcott has done regularly. Can't be arsed to write it out again so check the letter at the top of this page,17033,8744_6173637,00.html Capello and Wenger are two of Europe's best managers, they both keep picking him.
Little Dutch
27/05/2010 19:50:00
Overall, the season was disappointing for Theo. I expected him to progress much more, and I thought that 'football brain' criticism by Waddle had some merit. There are several mitigating factors, most of which pertained to his injuries. He did look better in the final stages of the season, so not all is lost for him. In terms of basic football skills like retaining possession (Theo tends to lose the ball in dangerous positions sometimes when Sagna has already made his run which is why Sagna does not attack so much when Theo plays) and tracking back, he needs to do a lot of work. I would like to see progress in these 2 areas from Theo next season.
27/05/2010 20:30:00
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