It’s been five years since the fleet footed winger arrived from Southampton on the promise of energizing the wide areas of the pitch and fulfilling what a homesick Jose Antonio Reyes failed to deliver. At 22 years of age, Walcott is now an exasperating muddle of intuition and speed spliced with dollops of bad choices and lack of composure.
He’s been having a decent season assisting RVP to his record setting Arsenal record of 35 goals but he’s been off form with his goals scoring just two in 19 appearances. In the match against QPR, Walcott put through with a nice ball used his pace to sprint free and with just the goalie to beat pulled the trigger early. The ball trickled away from goal in a mortifying moment. The next match against Fulham, Walcott completely disappeared in the second half. These are not isolated snapshots but vignettes of his career so far. Last year’s Champions League second leg at Barcelona led to a much anticipated match up between Walcott against Maxwell which ended in his pink shoes getting all the publicity.
Much has been written of Walcott’s speed and his ability to outpace his opponents is an undeniable asset but he seems to lack the ability to make the sort of measured service into the box consistently which threatens goals. More promisingly, as a second striker, he can use a more direct approach with his speed causing backpedaling defenders to fall to the wayside. But in this role he lacks a physical presence and the composure to finish chances.
Wenger in 2008 praised him for his “great body power” and predicted he would be a regular 10-15 goalscorer. The 2010 season saw him doing that but it followed some very lean years. The combination of England duty in both senior and the U21 squad coupled with the rigours of the Premier League has also exacted a physical toll and Walcott sat out many matches through injuries. The result is a career that has failed to sustain momentum and seems to have stalled.
Now, Arsenal is reportedly negotiating a new contract with Walcott well ahead of the timeline with the club desperate to avoid the last minute pitfalls that dogged them last summer. But this is the time Wenger needs to hold him to some sort of performance benchmark to justify the improved wages that he will surely demand. It also leaves Wenger with a quandary. When does one start drawing the line and supplanting Walcott with Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, who has impressed in his few match appearances and seems to actually possess the “great body power” used by Wenger to describe Chamberlain’s Southampton peer.