After six hapless and inconsistent years at Arsenal, Walcott's sudden found form and a semblance of consistency bodes well for the Gunner's as well as England's future.
When he was transferred from Southampton at the tender age of 18 during the January transfer window of 2005, Walcott was widely regarded as the hottest thing in English football after Wayne Rooney. Propped up to be the “next big thing” by the British media, who are notoriously liberal in lavishing praise or in reprimanding, Walcott suddenly found himself at the center of everyone’s attention. The constant media scrutiny and the enormous burden of public expectations seemed to bog him down. The expectations skyrocketed following his ill-judged selection in the national team for the 2006 World Cup, in Germany. The inclusion, retrospectively, did him more harm than good as he failed to cope with people’s unfair level of expectation.
Deployed in an unfamiliar role of a right sided winger at Arsenal, the last six years has been a tortuous journey for Walcott- littered with failures and frustrations and with few glimpses of brilliance which included the magical run against Liverpool and a hat trick against Croatia for England. Often accused of having no footballing brain, it is not a coincidence Walcott’s barren patch coincided with Arsenal’s era of transition from the glory days of “Invincibles” to the present state of mid table mediocrity or scrapping for a Champions League birth.
Theo Walcott’s form in the recent seasons perfectly summarized the life at Emirates in the recent years, often ranging from sheer footballing brilliance, filled with promise to equal parts frustration and despair. The latent talent came to the fore a bit too occasionally followed by stretches of inconsistency and insipid display, that disgruntled the fans and media alike. Walcott became the media’s favourite whipping boy who conveniently forgot Walcott’s tender age. Despite six years at Arsenal , he is still just 24, at an age where he is still learning the ropes. People wrongly believed Walcott would tread the same path as that of Rooney as far as speed of development is concerned. But no two players are alike and it is quite evident that Walcott’s early progression into the senior team proved inimical to his development. As the club, bereft of any silverware since 2005, wanted desperately to end the trophy drought, Walcott was fast tracked into a position of seniority that he found difficult to cope with.
However Arsenal’s remarkable recovery in the current season (At one point in September 2011 they were languishing at 17th and now are currently placed 3rd) has made the Gunner’s faithful believe again that Wenger is in the process of forming another title challenging team. What has farther boosted their hopes is one thing that was glaringly missing from Walcott’s armory-consistency.
On Saturday 24th of March, the Arsenal were at their rampaging best against a listless Aston Villa side and most of their attacking flair came in the form of the diminutive Englishman, who terrorized the left back Stephen Warnock all day by his speed and guile. He capped of his impressive display by a coolly taken goal to take his tally to 10th for this season. In earlier seasons also such flashes of brilliance were there, but what was missing was a level of consistency that the rigors of the Premier league demanded. That is why Walcott’s consistently brilliant performances for the past two to three months are all the more heartening for the fans. His brilliant second half display against Tottenham , when Arsenal was looking at another disappointing defeat , showed the young man’s level of maturity and dogged determination.
Undoubtedly, Theo Walcott has reached an inflection point in his Arsenal career. To vindicate the claims that he has turned things around in his career, he needs to replicate his success consistently not only at the club level but also at the national stage. Only then would he be able to shut his detractors up, once and for all.