It’s time Theo Walcott grew up and gave Arsene Wenger a stellar season at Arsenal
Rare is the time that a Frenchman has had an impact of such enormity on the British Isles that he has transformed the landscape.
When Arsene Wenger arrived on English shores as a virtual unknown in August 2006 – from the backwaters of Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan – few could have predicted the titanic shift that was to be set in motion in both the fortunes of Arsenal and indeed English football as a whole.
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From implementing a new-age way of thinking on everything from fitness, nutrition, as well as a whole new menu at the club canteen – including lessons on how to chew the food properly – everything before Wenger now seems from the Stone Age.
Few fans born after Wenger’s arrival will associate the calls of “boring, boring Arsenal” sung by opposing fans with a staid, workmanlike team from North London into a one full of French flair and English bulldog spirit that would go on to challenge the hegemony of Manchester United for much of the next decade, winning two league-and-cup doubles (1998 and 2002), go an entire 38-game league season unbeaten (2003) and reach the Uefa Champions League final (2006).
If 1998-2006 were the glory years of Wenger’s reign, the next decade would prove rather more barren, until back-to-back FA Cup titles, in 2014 and 2015.
Tellingly, or not, Arsenal’s relative decline set in round about the time a whizzkid was plucked from what must now surely be regarded a fabled production line at Southampton’s academy in January 2006.
Theo Walcott first entered the national consciousness four months later, when then England manager Sven Goran-Eriksson named in his 23-man England squad to take part in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, despite having only made 13 appearances in senior football and none since joining Arsenal.
While he spent that summer seeing no action in Germany, his name was on everyone’s lips, with the speed demon being groomed as a likely successor to the prolific Thierry Henry, the Frenchman whom Wenger successfully converted from a wide left player into the club’s record scorer and who would join Barcelona the following summer.
The reality, though, turned out somewhat different.
While the 17-year-old Walcott’s attributes were obvious from the outset, namely searing Usain Bolt-like pace, so, too, were his flaws: Misjudged runs and a poor final ball.
Anyone can forgive that in a teenager still learning his trade. And what better place to do that then at a club under a manager who had polished up rough diamonds such as Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit and turned them into world champions and stretched Tony Admas’s career years longer than expected.
The problem is, 10 years later and Walcott is still yet to iron out those flaws.
Wenger’s vision of converting Walcott into a central striker in the same mould as Henry, exploiting his speed, has failed at every turn. If Walcott can choose between the right pass and the wrong one it is invariably the latter.
Walcott has made 241 league appearances in his 10 years at Arsenal, scoring 57 goals, an average of a goal every 4.2 games.
As Wenger enters what looks likely to be his last season at Emirates Stadium, he is entitled to think that the faith and loyalty shown in a boy plucked from Southampton for a sum of close to £10 million (Dh48m) owes him a stellar season.
Walcott has started it well enough, with two goals in five league appearances. He needs to continue in the same vein if he is to cement his own legacy at a club where his own manager’s is nonpareil.
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Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM