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Not a Boy, Not Yet a Man
Theo Walcott announced himself on the world stage with hat-trick Wednesday night in Zagreb, Croatia. In what turned out to be a very convincing victory for England, the young Arsenal winger stole the show. Theo has been making steady progress over the last few years and its been hard for Arsenal supporters to keep his age in mind. After his heavily publicized transfer from Southampton in 2006, the pressure seemed to grow. It was never fair to expect a 16 year old kid to justify that kind of price tag. But the purchase of Walcott wasn’t about instant results. It was a classic Wenger move in that it looked to the future of the club. Walcott’s potential was big back then but it is unlimited now.
After a solid season last year in which he only started 20 games, Theo was able to notch 7 goals and 5 assists. These included his two multi-goal performances against Slavia in the Champions League and the infamous Birmingham match. His assist at Liverpool in the dying minutes after a glorious run from his own third showed that he is not only capable of making great plays but that he is capable of making them when it counts. His development has been brought along slowly by Arsene Wenger who has carefully sought to shield Theo from the supporters and media’s over-expectations. He only started in consecutive league matches once all year until he played the last four when the title race was effectively over.
There was a sense over the summer that this would be Theo’s breakthrough season. It seemed a no-brainer that he would overtake the out-of-position Emmanuel Eboue who despite starting over 30 matches in possibly Europe’s most dynamic midfield was failed to score and tallied (if you can call it that) one assist in the league all season. Theo had started in Arsenal’s first four competitive matches including both legs of the FC Twente tie before coming on as a substitute in Arsenal’s 3-0 drubbing of Newcastle. He has yet to register a league goal this campaign but following this very successful international break his confidence should be soaring. And rightly so. The kid can play on any pitch with anyone.
There are debates among Arsenal supporters about whether or not Theo is ready to assume a regular place in the starting XI. But at this point in his development, he can only continue to grow and mature as a footballer by playing regular league matches. We’ve seen him score in the Carling Cup Final, against Tottenham last year in the same competition, the 2 goals at Birmingham which would have kept us in the race if not for the late penalty, and, of course, the miraculous run at Liverpool in the Champions League. This is a player who rises to the big occasions; who is afraid of no one. These kinds of qualities are very rare even among ultra-talented footballers. Capello gave Theo his chance in a very important away match against a team who had not lost at home under their current manager… and he delivered. It is now time for him to do it for the Arsenal.