Season 2008/2009 will be the most important season of Theo Walcott’s career so far, indeed it could be a career defining one as we get a closer look at just how good this young man from Stanmore really is. The 19 year old moved to Arsenal for what will finally be £9.1m (decided in April 2008 ) in 2006 after alot of media hype and was quickly tipped for the big time. Indeed he was picked in Sven Goran Eriksson’s England squad for the 2006 world cup without ever starting for Arsenal.
He had a slow start to his Arsenal career but in the last half of the 07/08 he started to put in performances which made everyone sit up and take notice including one of the greatest assists of all time against Liverpool in the Champions League quarter final when he ran past 4 or 5 players from box to box to set up Adebayor for what could have been the winning goal. After ending the season on a high note Arsenal fans are eager to see what he can produce next season, but what should be the realistic expectations for the young England international?
We have seen the ying and yang of Walcott since he came to Arsenal. Many fans were disappointed with his progress up until the halfway mark of last season. Whilst he did have some flashes of quality he was often guilty of playing too head down, not passing, too direct, dribbling not up to standard. These were some of the criticisms being laid at Walcott’s door by critics despite his young age but combined with the hype surrounding him and the expectations of being a player for a top four team even the most patient fans could be forgiven for having reservations about his true potential.
However after a spate of injuries to other players and some public criticism by captain William Gallas he stepped up to the play and put in some impressive performances when he was needed the most. His assist tally started to shoot up and his ability to beat players improved 5 fold and in situations where previously he was getting tackled he was flying past players. His off the ball movement and runs also went from scatty to threatening and he won back the place in the England squad he previously lost.
So what should we expect from Walcott next season, should we expect the inconsistent Walcott of old? Should we expect the Maradonna-esque Walcott we saw against Liverpool who after learning his trade is now ready to forward all guns ablazing? Or should we take a more measured approach and expect a steadily improving Walcott who will put in some extremely worthy performances but not on the level of the games more acclaimed stars?
The first thing to consider is if he will be a first team player. Most gooners agree that he should stroll in front of the much maligned Emmanuel Eboue but what if Hleb stays? What if his replacement takes the slot or if Rosicky gets moved to the right? Does he have what it takes to cement that place?
Ultimately we do not know but he certainly looked capable at the end of last season and it would be great for all gooners if he can pull through and reach the heady heights of premiership stardom. Career wise he does not want to be left behind next season and if he is capable of keeping off his competitors then it would surely mean that he is playing to a high level.
One problem for Walcott has always been that he is English, that he was hyped and that he came on the footsteps of Wayne Rooney who made an impact early on for club and country. The comparison and expectation has always applied more pressure on him than stars such as Cesc Fabregas and Gael Clichy who were allowed to bloom with much less scrutiny and expectation than Walcott has had. Luckily for him though Theo does not seem like the kind of player that gets affected too much by hype or pressure and seems quite calm and down to earth which will only serve him well being in the position he is in. However that does not stop the media and footy fans alike from expecting a certain amount from him.
The most people can expect from him is his best but what that is has yet to be seen. Next season could be the biggest in the history of Arsenal football club for a long time as the much coveted silverware must be achieved to start to fulfil the promise of Wenger’s third phase and Theo Walcott is slap bang in the thick of it. What can the young man achieve? We only have a couple of months before we start to find out, don’t miss it.
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