Ten years a Gunner: is Theo Walcott an Arsenal legend?
After a decade at the Emirates, it is time for the player to finally fulfil his potential
Theo Walcott, one of the Premier League's greatest enigmas, celebrates ten years as an Arsenal player today. But after a decade of flickering greatness, he remains a player who divides opinion.
The England winger was signed from Southampton for £10m in January 2006, although he did not make his debut for the Gunners until August of that year.
During his time at the Emirates, he has come to symbolise the strengths and weaknesses of manager Arsene Wenger's side more than anyone else.
Over his ten seasons with Arsenal, Walcott has made 326 appearances for the club, although more than a third have been as a substitute. He has only started 20 or more Premier League games in two of those seasons, thanks to his never-ending problems with form and fitness, and just once has he scored more than ten Premier League goals in a campaign - he managed 14 in 2012-13 - and has made it into double figures in all competitions a mere three times.
He did not get his hands on a piece of silverware until he lifted the FA Cup last season, having missed the previous season's final through injury. It is not an impressive record for a player who was tipped to become the new Thierry Henry.
Even more frustrating is Walcott's inability to make any one position his own, although he may have become a victim of his own flexibility. Ostensibly a right-winger, he has been touted and tested as an out-and-out striker, but failed to establish himself in that position. In recent weeks, he has been deployed on the left wing, much to the confusion of Gunners fans, with Joel Campbell playing on the opposite flank.
Nevertheless, Walcott has become something of an icon at the Emirates and there is no doubting his commitment to the Arsenal cause, as his Instagram post celebrating the milestone proved.
Speaking about the milestone, Wenger was effusive in his praise of the player.
"Theo is very intelligent," he said. "He always had pace and his movement off the ball was always perfect. I think he is much more conscious of teamwork and he has improved as well in his finishing.
"He loves Arsenal and I’m convinced he will give us much more in the next five years than the last five because he is a player who is always moving forward and trying to do better. He has a very positive attitude."
Walcott has also impressed John Cross of the Daily Mirror. "I believe Walcott must go down as one of Wenger's best signings," he says. "Walcott has established himself as one of the most consistent, exciting and dynamic footballers for Arsenal. The acid test is that they miss him hugely when he’s not playing."
Talk of "unfulfilled potential" is "wrong", he says, as Walcott has become an Arsenal and England regular. "He's a credit to the club and his family," adds Cross. "He is also still improving as a player and, at 26, there’s even more time to improve and better days to come."
There is more to come, agrees Charlie Nicolas of Sky Sports, but he says Walcott's career has been undermined by injuries "which have caused him too many setbacks in his development". That means he cannot be considered one of the top tier talents at the Emirates.
"He's not at the level of [Mesut] Ozil or [Alexis] Sanchez but I'd much rather have him in the team than at another Premier League club," adds Nicolas. "He has plenty to offer, he has massive potential and he just needs to stay clear of injuries. If he does that, Arsenal can win many more trophies."
Walcott's greatest achievement may have been to "navigate the minefield" of teenage superstardom, says James Olley of the Evening Standard. "But the sense of unfulfillment is reflected in his desire to play as a striker. Walcott sees his future there, Wenger claims he will end up there. There have been brief opportunities but Olivier Giroud's improvement this season has limited chances in Walcott's preferred position."
But he remains grounded and is "not the type of character to agitate for a move from the club he loves".