From a boy to a Man, a decade of Theo

It was on this day in 2006 that Arsenal announced the signing of young 16 year old Southampton prodigy Theo Walcott. This young boy joined our great club with a very level head on his shoulders, full of respect for all the hard work and support he had received at Southampton to develop him as a player but also excited at the prospect of joining as he says “A Club he has admired for a long time”. Theo has shown outstanding commitment to Arsenal in this decade and clearly had the opportunity to move on but he has always chosen to “Sign Da Ting”.

On the 20/05/2015 Theo Walcott became only the 49th player in the history of football to represent Arsenal over 300 times & just the 9th player to achieve that feat since 1990. He’s now moved onto 326 senior appearances and is still just coming into his peak years at 26 years old. Theo is a credit to Arsenal football club not only on the pitch but also he’s loyal, always the last person on the pitch clapping the fans, always very grateful for what he has at the club  and also speaks brilliantly to the press. For me its been fascinating see Theo grow and develop not only as a footballer but also as a human being, in both cases Arsene deserves a huge amount of credit for shaping him into the man he is today, this is why today on his 10th anniversary I want to take a look back through his Arsenal years.

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THE EARLY YEARS

There was a lot of excitement and expectation placed on Theo’s shoulders at such a young age, he had won the BBC Young Sports Personality Of The Year 2006 & despite signing in January of 2006 he didn’t make his senior Arsenal debut until the curtain raiser in our brand new Emirates stadium, a fleeting 17 minute appearance in August vs Aston Villa. Walcott’s first start in an Arsenal shirt came in a 3-0 home victory against Watford, he only made 6 premier league starts in the 06/07 season but not forgetting he’s just a 17 year old boy that’s a fair accomplishment. The main part of Theo’s first full season at the Arsenal was our run to the League Cup final he featured in 497 of a possible 540 minutes in the competition & really announced himself on the scene at the perfect time. Starting in a Cup Final at the Millenium Stadium at 17 years old still yet to score an Arsenal goal this is where Theo exploded. A corner swung and headed clear by Chelsea the ball fell to the feet of Theo, he span away from a tackle, head up he fizzed a pass into Abou Diaby then continued a perfectly timed run and seemingly sliced Theo the middle of the Chelsea defence, the ball from Diaby was inch perfect and Theo expertly took it into his stride before executing a finish past our now number 1 Petr Cech that Thierry would dream about. You could see the delight, the explosive happiness etched all over the young boys face, unfortunately we went on to lose the final but it will certainly be a memory for Theo as he scored his first Arsenal goal.

The 07/08 season was a season in which Wenger gradually incorporated Theo more and more into the side although we can really only talk about one moment. Champions league quarter-final 2nd leg at Anfield, just 18 minutes to go Arsenal are 2-1 down on the night, 3-2 down on aggregate heading out of the champions league, Gerrard hits a shot on the edge of our box and its blocked, the ball falls to Theo about 3 yards outside our own box, his first touch gets him going, blasts past Xabi Alonso and another in the middle of his own half, the acceleration is electrifying as he crosses the half way line, Mascherano is steaming across toward Theo as he reaches the final 3rd, Theo shrugs off his attention and effortlessly breezes past Hyppia as Mascherano clatters into him. He’s ran the full length of the pitch taking 4 men completely out of the game, its his chance its his moment & astonishingly he plays an inch perfect pass to Adebayor who slams home, at this stage Arsenal are in the champions league semi finals on away goals., just take a few moments now to watch this incredible 15 seconds.

08/09 was a frustrating season for Theo as he missed the majority of it with a Shoulder injury. Despite this on his return he still managed to contribute in a major way by giving us the lead in the champions league quarter-final with an expertly executed chip against Villarreal at the Emirates and also scoring the opening goal in a Wembley FA Cup semi final against Chelsea. Much like the previous season 09/10 was a year in which Theo struggled hugely with injuries, despite this and as with every season of Theo’s Arsenal career he made a huge impact in a huge game, coming on against Barcelona at the Emirates and single-handedly scared the life out of Barcelona, we managed to change a 2-0 loss into a 2-2 draw to take away with us to the Camp Nou. Theo’s performance that day prompted these quotes from 2 of the best in the game.

 

Lionel Messi “I Can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players i have ever played against, Barcelona players are not scared easily but i can tell you that when we played Arsenal he truly worried us”

Also Pep Guardiola described Walcott as “Quicker than our whole team put together” and memorably observed that, once he had the ball, you needed a pistol to stop him.

HITTING HIS STRIDE

The 10/11 season saw Theo who was clearly developing as  man begin to develop his figures, having a direct hand in 22 goals with his most notable performance at home Vs Chelsea where we won 3-1 and he scored and put one on a plate for Cesc. In 11/12 Theo hit double figures for both goals and assists for the first time in his career, he scored that crazy goal in that crazy game at Stamford bridge and 2 in the 5-2 demolition of Spurs at the Emirates. 12/13 was an incredible season for Theo, in 42 appearances he contributed a quite brilliant 37 goals and assists combined, 2 hat-tricks, one vs Newcastle and the other in a stupid 7-5 game away at Reading in the cup. Theo really became the monster he always looked like being in these few seasons. He continued that outstanding form into the 13/14 season but had it cruelly cut short by a horrible cruciate ligament injury, he managed just 18 appearances contributing again a combined 13 goals and assists, exceptional numbers and proving what a huge player he is for the side. 14/15 provided a perfectly bitter-sweet ending for Theo as he really struggled to return from his injury, suffering setbacks and being unable to get himself fit enough to play a major role in the season, that said a beautiful moment for him as he scored a hat-trick up top in the last premier league game of the season and was given the nod in the FA Cup final. After years of loyalty, years of making the difference in big games but the side not coming through, years of goals and assists, injuries, pain, happiness and development Theo sent the Arsenal end at Wembley into raptures with a thunderous left footed strike that exploded into the net, I couldn’t have been happier for the now MAN who I saw score his first Arsenal goal as a boy in another cup final, I can watch the explosion of the fans over & over and I was at that end at Wembley and will never ever forget the feeling of taking the lead in the cup final. Just look at his face, what it means to him.

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF THEO

Now I want to come on and give my opinion about how we get the best out of Theo, there has been a lot of debate about Theo’s best position, is he a CF, can he play on the left-wing. For me there isn’t even a debate in the situation, Theo Walcott is one of the most prolific and dangerous right wingers in Europe. At the moment I don’t feel we are getting anywhere near the best out of Theo, on the left hand side he can’t get to the byline, he can’t provide width, he’s one footed and predictable. He’s finding it very difficult to adjust his body shape and be aware of his left shoulder which is a very difficult thing to do for a naturally right-sided player, the left-wing certainly doesn’t suit him. As a CF? I’m not completely against it, he’s proven that in certain games it’s no doubt an option and a very viable one, very good at making runs a clinical finisher who knows how to get into goalscoring positions, BUT all these traits are still do-able from his right-wing position. Theo Walcott is an expert at making runs ACROSS his man, from the outside right to inside right between the full back and the centre back, we have the best player in the world to pick those runs out. To back up this thought process I can provide you with a little figure.

With Mesut Ozil playing in the number 10 role and Theo Walcott on the right-wing they have completed 1,018 minutes together on the pitch, in this time that have scored or assisted a combined 24 goals, this works out an astonishing one every 42 minutes.

As a full back it’s almost impossible to decide how to play Theo, if you push tight to him its very likely he will spin you with a quick pass inside and leave you for dead receiving the return pass in behind the full back, if you drop off 10 yards the whole back 4 have to drop 10 yards deeper leaving a larger space in front of the back four for Giroud to drop into and Ozil to operate in. Clearly Olivier Giroud benefits from Theo Walcott’s inclusion on the right hand side also as Theo’s delivery can be exceptional and we have a right footed winger hitting the byline and delivering, also to back this up I have another figure.

 

Since the beginning of the 12/13 season we’ve started 32 matches with Theo Walcott on the right-wing and Olivier Giroud as our center forward, in those matches they have a combined 61 goals and assists.

I see Theo get a lot of stick for his “defensive work”, I’ll just touch on this as I will be writing a blog later this month discussing our tactical approach to games at the moment but I’ll say one thing for now. You don’t sign a right back to get you double figures goals and assists. You also don’t sign a right-winger to make 50 tackles and 30 interceptions a season, with an adequate DM and a Full Back who assesses the situation correctly we are more than capable of setting up. The way I see it at the moment is that Theo is a huge weapon for Arsenal football club but we are not using him properly, take a look at the image below, I’ve compiled these statistics in pre-season this year. They are based on Theo Walcott’s last 5000 minutes spent on the football pitch in comparison to others.

As you can see his contribution from the right-wing is absolutely outstanding, 34 goals and 24 assists equalling one every 86 minutes, that’s lethal, those figures are up there with any winger in Europe, it’s a shame since his injury we have chosen not to play him in his best position and I can only hope with the return of Alexis Theo finds himself back out there. It feel to me like you are going out for 18 holes with your best driver in your bag but only using it as a putter never getting the best out of it off the tee. I leave you with a video of all his Arsenal goals. Enjoy

THANK YOU

Finally I would like to say thank-you Theo, for the loyalty;for the 10 years of loving Arsenal, for the way you always go out of your way to represent us as fans & Arsenal as a football club both on and off the pitch. You’ve developed into a wonderful footballer and a wonderful person, at 26 years old we are entering the peak years, here’s to another 5 years of Theo Walcott.

326 Appearances, 81 goals, 69 assists. Go on and make yourself an Arsenal legend Theo.

It’s this year we win that Premier League title Theo.

Woz The Gooner

 

 

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