After turning down a new contract worth £75,000 a week—amid reports that £100,000 a week had been demanded—Arsenal’s Theo Walcott has claimed that his delay in extending his soon to expire deal is down to his desire to play up front and emulate former striker Thierry Henry.
It was a clear move to change the narrative of Walcott as just another money hungry player. Yet, in truth, it’s hard to know which suggestion greater reflects Walcott’s lack of self-awareness—thinking that he merits such a huge salary or that he believes he warrants a central striking role as an heir to arguably the greatest player in Arsenal’s history.
Walcott arrived in a blaze of hype as a 16-year-old from Southampton almost seven years ago. The fever surrounding him escalated even further as he was called up to England’s squad for the 2006 World Cup—before even making a Premier League appearance for the Gunners.
Since then, however, Walcott has developed very little else to his game other than the exceptional pace that initially made him stand out from his young peers. Against a team with space in behind, his pace can be devastating and clearly he can make a significant impact even on the biggest occasions. After coming on as a substitute against Barcelona in the Champions League three seasons ago, Walcott changed the complexion of the tie as he caused the opposition’s defense ample problems simply by running straight at them.
The problem is that those occasions are all too fleeting. Walcott is the ultimate one-trick pony; if a defense figures out how to contain him, he lacks a trick or even the awareness to try something different. Walcott’s first-touch is repeatedly found wanting and so often his passing does not befit that of a Premier League player, never mind that of someone turning out for a side with aspirations to challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.
His lack of either strength or technical acumen, highlighted by his poor first touch, make it difficult to see how he could be deployed as the lone striker that Wenger prefers to utilize. Soccer players are often not the best evaluators of their own ability, but Walcott’s latest comments are somewhat bewildering.
"I want to be an Arsenal legend,” said Walcott, according to ESPN. “Thierry [Henry] joined the club when he was 22 and I want to become an Arsenal legend like him, playing up front as well, which is a big factor for me. I've played on the right wing and had the opportunity to play up front a bit more so I think it's about time.”
When Walcott arrived in North London, in the dwindling days of the spell Henry cast over Arsenal Football Club, there were many who believed that the young Englishman had the potential to replace the club’s record goal scorer.
Both had phenomenal pace and both began their career as wide forwards. In truth, though, the comparisons to Henry never did Walcott any favors and certainly don’t now. Henry was a phenomenal player—able to play effectively with his back to goal as well as using that soaring speed to tear defenses to shreds before finishing off chances with his famed coolness in front of goal.
At 23, Walcott is still relatively young, but there is nothing to suggest that he will ever warrant mention in the same breath when the list of great Arsenal players is discussed.
So what went wrong for Walcott from the boy who seemingly had the world at his feet? There have never been any insinuations that Walcott wasn’t or isn’t a dedicated professional both on and off the field. Certainly there isn’t the same case of what might have been as there was with the great wasted talents like Paul Gascoigne or more recently Adriano.
Rather Walcott is a good player capable of occasional excellence, but one who’s ability never matched the hype. Recent events may even have transferred that opinion to Walcott himself.
Arsenal have made their most impressive start to the season in many a year and so it must sting Walcott that he has so far started just one game.
It surely must also dent Walcott’s ego that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has started in his place in the Arsenal side on more than one occasion to date this campaign. The comparison between the two is intriguing. Oxlade-Chamberlain is four years Walcott’s junior and also joined the Gunners after progressing through Southampton’s now famed academy. Yet from the day he arrived at the Emirates it was clear that Oxlade-Chamberlain had much more to his game than Walcott. That the versatile midfielder is now ahead of Walcott in both the Arsenal and England pecking order speaks volumes.
The presence of Oxlade-Chamberlain, not to mention Gervinho and youngster Serge Gnabry—who has already been praised highly by Wenger—means that Arsenal would be foolhardy to give into Walcott’s demands for either a striking role or an increased pay packet.
It may now be time for the traditionally stubborn Wenger to admit that he made a rare mistake with his talent spotting all those years ago at Southampton and cash in on Walcott while he still can.