With Theo Walcott’s expected to leave Arsenal this month, we can’t help but wonder if Arsene Wenger ruined him, or if was he always destined to be disappointing.
Theo joined Arsenal from the Saints in 2006 for an initial fee of £5m, which would rise to £12m with add-ons. The forward was just 16 and possessed a speed most of us hadn’t seen before. The pressure was piled on with some believing he had the skills to be the next Michael Owen.
He made his Premier League debut at the age of 17 against Aston Villa in August 2006, brought on as Arsenal legend, Gilberto Silva, was taken off. I’m sure the occasion wasn’t lost on the Englishman.
He was barely out of school and already training alongside the likes of Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie, and was burdened with England hoping he was a new world class forward in the making. It was always only going to go one of two ways.
As the manager, it was down to Arsene Wenger to manage Theo’s expectations and introduce him to the fold naturally. The papers could write what they wanted, but the boss was in charge of his development and discipline.
Jack Wilshere’s comments recently about Danny Welbeck referring to Wenger as the 26-year-old’s father demonstrate how protective and nurturing the Frenchman actually is behind the scenes. I believe this is part of the reason it’s taken so long for the Arsenal boss to ‘give up’ on Theo, so to speak.
Wenger slowly brought the ex-Saints winger into the first-team. He didn’t over-play him or push him forward quicker than the player wanted. During the 2006/07 season, he made 32 appearances, but they were only for a handful of minutes here and there, and only 16 were in the Premier League.
Next season, this rose to 39 over all competitions, with Walcott scoring seven goals. The forward was developing with the gradual increase of game time, but still there wasn’t a feeling at the time that the issue was being forced.
In 2008/09, however, Theo’s first injury at Arsenal struck – a shoulder injury that kept him out of 91 days. After this, Wenger had to battle between introducing the forward back to the team and preventing him from picking up knocks.
He had good seasons, like 2012/13 when he made 32 Premier League appearances, scored 14 goals and provided 12 assists. But they were few and far between. After stagnating on the wing for a number of years, Theo claimed he wanted to play as a striker, so Wenger eventually gave him a chance up front.
Unfortunately though, the forward, who was now into his mid-20s, had some success but flattered to deceive. He then asked to be moved back to the wing, which Wenger did. The Arsenal manager made allowances and stuck by Theo through injury woes and contract stand-offs, and now it looks to end in a disappointing fashion.
I don’t feel like Wenger has ‘ruined’ Walcott – quite the opposite. The manager has done everything he can to try and help the Englishman succeed, and he’s just not performed. Injuries have obviously taken their toll, and I feel they’ve played a large part in his lack of progression than Wenger or Arsenal’s coaching staff have.
It’s a shame but part of the sport. He’s scored 108 goals in 398 games for Arsenal. Time will tell if he’ll continue adding to it, or if his future lies elsewhere.