It took seven years, but Theo Walcott has finally started to fulfill his potential at Arsenal. Once heralded as the bright hope of English football, the athletic forward was rushed to the fore at the age of just seventeen, with great expectations weighing upon his shoulders. Years of inconsistency and underachievement have ensued during a down period at The Emirates, but now, Theo has truly emerged as the star we all anticipated. The manner in which he placed the team upon his back and hauled them back to life this week in the pulsating cup tie with Reading is emblematic of a star finally approaching his peak. Theo has arrived.
It is no coincidence that Walcott has begun to flourish when playing a central role within the forward line. Previously marooned out on the right flank, devoid of impact, he was unfairly categorised as purely an athlete; cast adrift as an insignificant cog an impressive Arsenal machine. Such deployment from Arsene Wenger detracted from Walcott's impact, and perhaps even impeded his career to a large extent. As a winger, Walcott was forced to attempt to cross the ball, pass the ball, run with the ball; all of which have never actually been his forte. Now, however, times have changed.
As Arsenal continue to purge their best players on an annual basis, Walcott's stock has risen; with the passing of bigger stars, more powerful personalities and those superior in the pecking order, Theo has ascended the hierarchy and is now the main man at the club. Now, he is the main fulcrum. Now, he is the main threat. Now, he is the main striker.
Walcott has frequently spoken of his desire to play as a central striker and, with the goals now flowing, can attest to being proved right in his convictions. Theo's greatest attribute is his instinctive play. It is only when luxuriating in time and space that he tends to under-perform and, accordingly, has begun to thrive in the pressurised, reactive striker role, as highlighted by the nimble, deft finish for his crucial opening goal at the Madejski Stadium. His was the run, and finish, of a seasoned centre forward.
There seems now a discernible evolution in the attitude of the player, also. It is palpable just how much Walcott has matured, and just how hard he has worked on his game over recent years. Also, it is tangibly evident just how much he wants to achieve things in the game now; his celebrations upon equalising at the death truly symbolic of this. Once, it could be argued that Theo Walcott lacked both the physical and psychological toughness to compete in the most advanced spheres of the game, but such debates have recently been debunked as mere folly. Theo is ready to advance to the next level.
Whether Arsenal are the club to take him to that next level remains to be seen. After rejecting a purported five-year, £75,000-per week contract offer in August, Walcott is as yet uncommitted to a further stay in North London. Arsene Wenger moved to impose a Christmas deadline on further negotiations, presumably so a potential January sale could be initiated should the sides not come to terms; but it is unknown whether Walcott is willing to discuss a renewal in greater depth.
In the modern era, Arsenal have a proclivity for creating players in to talismanic figures within the club, before proving cripplingly-parsimonious in crucial contract negotiations. Henry. Nasri. Fabregas. All have left just as they teetered on the verge of becoming truly indispensable to Wenger's project. Previous failures make it even more critically important that, on this occasion, the Arsenal upper management bite the bullet and keep their most influential player. Walcott must stay for Arsenal to remain credible.