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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.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday May 27 2010

Time: 3:24PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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
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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
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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.
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27/05/2010 20:30:00

Have to agree with CR on this one. Sometimes I honestly believe he has gone into the wrong sport and should have become a 200 metre runner. Has speed yes, but if you cannot harness your speed properly as a footballer and be able to control the ball properly at the same time, well effectively it will be useless. I see flashes of brilliance from time to time i.e. the run against Liverpool in the C/L, goal against Villareal, also in the C/L but for the most part this is often overshadowed by poor decision making and not thinking fast on his feet and more infuriatingly, not taking a chance and shooting when he should. I tend to agree that had we not invested so much money on him, he probably would have been quietly sold or constantly shipped out on loan till he was sold but because of the money spent on him, having to perservere and be patient. Much like Diaby, Theo's problem is consistency.
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27/05/2010 22:20:00

Prits, I can tell you Theo's tracking back is almost impeccable these days; his speed comes in very handy at such times. I recall times he had saved the team's blushes, defensively (why; he was the last man on a particular occasion and got in the saving tackle- sorry, can't recall the games, precisely). I think this is where he holds an advantage over Lennon. What Theo needs is a consistent run of games, even if as impact sub and he will be a different player.

"Theo's most distructive displays have come in the Champions league...". Very true, LD. Wonder why, and don't think it is only in his being an "unknown quantity" to continental defences. I'd say he is a useful player coming in about the 70th minute of games, when the opposing defense is tiring. Can't forget how he tore AC Milan's defense to shreds, culminating in that 65 yard run and pass that resulted in our 2nd and winning goal. I still think Theo has better years ahead of him.
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27/05/2010 23:06:00

You are spot on about why coaching minds as clever as Wenger and Capello keep picking him. The league is full of players who will put in a decent 7/10 performance every game, yet don't have the ability to turn a game like Walcott can. He may only be one-dimensional, but that one dimension (speed) is a devastating weapon. Without Theo against Barcelona we would have been a laughing stock.
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28/05/2010 01:59:00

Good piece TS. I think as you allude to, followers have to adjust their expectations of Theo. Because he was brought from obscurity at a young age and thrust into the first team by the manager who'd introduced Anelka, Henry, Weah and others to world football, we had high hopes.
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28/05/2010 04:48:00

When I look back to the end of 08/09, I remember Theo impressing week in week out, having been a starter for the whole season for the first time in his career. Then of course the 09/10 season was derailed by serious injuries. This point cannot be stressed enough.
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28/05/2010 04:53:00

Right, Hughied. A consistent run of games and Theo will be flying again & influential.
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28/05/2010 12:36:00

I don't know much about Theo as a person but I think he needs to realise where he is at and what kind of opportunity he has at a club like Arsenal. Does he stay behind an hour extra and practice his final ball? or is he off writing children's books? He has the pace, we all know that, he has ability on the ball as we saw with his goal against Burnley, his delivery against Spurs for Bendtner (that dissected 2 centre backs and the keeper) and his infamous hat trick against Croatia, as LD also points out his movement is better than most people give him credit for and most importantly of all he is a big game player (Which makes him a shoe in for the 23). I would just like to see a little more fire in his belly, a little more will to succeed and we will have a player on our hands.
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28/05/2010 14:57:00

I think Walcott was subjected to some unnecessary treatment from pundits after the England game the other night. Andy Townsend, a member of the ExplayerwhonowearnsalivingbeatifyingstarplayerslikeRooneyandGerradirrespectiveoftheirperformance brigade, lambasted Walcott for not playing the right ball to Rooney, when the reverse should have been the case. Rooney was yards offside, and made no attempt to change his position. Every time a replay was shown, it was Walcotts fault. In fact I thought Rooney had a stinker the other night. Had it been Bent in his position, no doubt super-intellect Townsend would have berated HIM for being offside. The era of untouchable players beyond repproach, I thought, had ended with Sven and McClaren. Nobody appears to have told the know all-know nothing pundits, who, without exception, continue to criticise all and sundry bar Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Rooney. As a follower of the other lot, I felt rather sorry for Walcott for England, as I think he played well, especially in the first half. If anything stank, it was Townsend, and his cor blimey I'm an ex-pro and I know best shtick.
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28/05/2010 16:10:00

Indeed LJ. If you look very carefully at Townsend's mouth as he speaks you can almost detect the star player man juice grinding in his molars.
Tony Rocky Horror
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28/05/2010 16:48:00

We're always hearing about the brilliance of Rooney and Gerrard, and how they're going to win us the World Cup. And what happens? We get to the quater-final, have to play a country that actually has running water, and we go out on penalties after yet another dreadful show. Normally we spend the last half-hour frantically defending our own six-yard area because our 'star player' has been sent off for an act of hair-brained petulance. The summer ends, the whole farce descends into a tawdry, xenophobic media fuelled frenzy directed out our own manager. The new season begins and the 'genuis' who sorted himself out an early bath that ruined our chances is once again being hailed as the greatest thing since Pat Rice's hair piece. Wake me up when it's over.
Tony Rocky Horror
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28/05/2010 17:02:00

Very true LJ! I'm confident Theo will come good with an injury free campaign. There is something about the way he runs with the ball that looks like he has no control but if you watch old footage (or have a memory) of Owen he looks very similar. I think Theo needs people to believe in him without putting unrealistic pressure on him. In response to the question about what he's like in training, I've heard that he is very committed but also Cashley said 'he does things I didn't think possible'. The noises coming out of the training ground when he was 18-19 and injury free were that he has a real high level of skill and a great finish on top of the obvious pace...he must still have those so lets hope to see it in 10/11
No 10
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28/05/2010 20:05:00 Evidence of what Theo can do. If he'd had a fit RVP all season and a Pires on the other flank, his runs and crosses would have produced twice as many goals so far in his Arsenal career.
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29/05/2010 06:23:00

The tournament in question was UEFAs Euro U21 Championship Finals, the age group equivalent of the Euros and probably the pre-eminent age group tournament in the world. If it was the Toulon tournament then fair enough but the Euros are hardly mickey mouse especially when you consider the quality of the players from across Europe competing in it.
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29/05/2010 18:18:00

The point is if a player is under contract at your club, is paid a large amount of wages, who has had injury problems and you want him to have rest and full pre season then surely he should not be called up against your wishes. The fact he plays for the first team and our medical team & manager predicted that him playing this tournament could cause later problems is a disagrace. As it is he was injured through out the season and halted his progress. Disgraceful really
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29/05/2010 19:22:00

walcott just aint that good -gotta say u lot seem to know this ,but everyone else seems to want to shag him or divorce him, u should play him upfront ,dont think hes a winger, 2 MUCH HYPE if u paid 2 mil for him prob b ok,2 players closley linked to walcott - BALE AND LENNON they are the real deal not avin a dig -mabe arsen 2 blame a bit ........... yes i`am a yid............!!
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29/05/2010 21:48:00

We paid about £5M. Bale looks decent but so did Bentley for a season at Blackburn, Lennon was not better than Walcott at the same age.
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29/05/2010 22:18:00

Funny how a year without injury has helped Bale. Last year Yids everywhere were castigating him as a total waste of money. Theo cost more but has not had an uninterupted season where he can grow into the team. Confidence is a big word and when he has it he will be a big big player for you.
SFC Forever
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30/05/2010 18:03:00

If i remember right, was it not Arshavin next in the this series?
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30/05/2010 18:26:00

Walcott is not a footballer, all he has is pace, he is exactly the same player now as he was when he was 17. He has not progressed one single bit, either Wenger hasnt improved him or simply cant. Feel he needs to leave Arsenal, but if he does his england career will be over until he actually proves himself. Iceman10- Lennon was not better than Walcott at the same age ?!? he is one year older than him lol....Walcott has nothing to his game at all, he is not a right winger. Until he is played up front he will continue to tred water...
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31/05/2010 18:15:00

Wrong again CGan. Walcott is two years younger than Lennon not one. Going from an impact player to an influential player is a matter of time, development and luck for Walcott. It may happen or it may not happen. What is guaranteed is that Theo will continue to drive defenders back, create space for our other attackers and bang in the odd goal himself. Not bad for a 21 year old.
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31/05/2010 19:06:00

lennon has been a top player even when he was at leeds , u will all see in the world cup when ur cheering him on, bale complete player same age as walcott he broke his foot took long time to recover but he is back to his best and some , walcott has no ball control dont know when to take some one on or not cant cross but he can RUN never looks like he got control ov the ball tho- lot ov my pals r gooners they r honest they all say he is shhhhit
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31/05/2010 20:46:00

they also want arsen gone -----bet u dont deltaforce walcott will turn out good 1 day ---- bolt is taking up football -his left footed- u could play him on the left and wallcott on right u could get him for same money u paid for walcott u never know ...!
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31/05/2010 20:51:00

I do think Walcott has more potential as a striker, 1 thing he does have over Lennon is a finish, i remember him scoring a Henry-esque side foot curler for Englands Under 21s in an important away game last year. I dont think he offers enough ability on the ball to be a wide midfielder, but upfront on the defenders shoulder he could be deadly, Young Michael Owen anyone?
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01/06/2010 03:30:00

well he can practice working on his shortcomings,hes got plenty of time now hes not going to Africa
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01/06/2010 14:13:00

Yup. I am not fussed that he is not going. Give him a good full pre season and hopefully he can have a good season for US.
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01/06/2010 14:37:00

How's that decision to go to that U21 Championship looking now, Theo? Next time, listen to Arsene. Either way, England are really shooting themselves in the foot by not taking a relatively fresh game changer.
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01/06/2010 16:43:00

Theo as stupid in going to the U21 last year against Arsene's advice.. serves him right. If he got his rest, he would have had more chances to stay injury-free, a better season and nailed his place to SA. As it is, his season never got going and on merit, he should stay at home and get ready for next season. He should forget this nonsense of turning up for his country at all levels.. Its up to AW to pick him up now.
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01/06/2010 17:35:00

and then there were no Gooners in the England squad!
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01/06/2010 19:11:00

have to say I like walcott as a player and think that although his Arsenal form may not have justified his inclusion for England, he does have qualities that could make him devastating, especially from the bench. As was written, so much is demanded from him and far too much is unrealistic. Personally without being disrespectful to arsenal the move was the wrong one for him and part of his problem aside from his lack of regular football is that he doesnt seem to know whether he is a winger or a striker and as his confidence has drained, so has that fantastic ability to dominate defences that he once did. for me he will come again, but I do wonder if he needs a change of club, perhaps taking a small step backwards to gain regular games.
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01/06/2010 19:33:00

I dont think you are correct in that it was a wrong move. I think injuries keep plaguing him slowing down his progress. When on song he is a decent weapon, but missing out on preseason and being injured for 3 quarters of this season because he played in a pointless under 21 against arsenals/wengers recommendation has cost him.
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01/06/2010 20:34:00


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