Theo Walcott risks becoming the forgotten man by staying at Arsenal
Theo Walcott produced an impressive performance on Thursday evening as Arsenal brushed aside BATE Borisov in the final fixture of the Europa League group stage to provide Arsene Wenger, and perhaps Gareth Southgate, with a timely reminder that he still has plenty to offer at both club and international level.
The game itself may have been the epitome of a dead-rubber contest and of little importance, reflected by the lack of supporters in attendance, with The Gunners already having topped Group H, but Walcott played with the passion, purpose and energy of a man that knows that the best years of his career are starting to pass him by.
He scored one goal, although he could easily have added two more to that tally, and played a key role in four others prior to being substituted mid-way through the second half with the standing ovation a deserved reward for his performance on the night.
In truth, Walcott is at serious risk of becoming the forgotten man of English football. At one point, the winger was widely regarded as being one of the most promising young players in the Premier League and was a consistent figure for both club and country, but, injuries, inconsistency, and competition for places in North London has led to him falling off the metaphorical radar.
At 28, he is no longer a youngster hoping to maximise his potential, but rather an experienced professional whose reputation is quickly diminishing.
Walcott may have been handed a place in the starting line-up on Thursday and worn the captain’s armband yet his appearances so far this season has been few and far between.
His inclusion against BATE was the first fixture in any competition that he has started in over a month whilst the winger has not started a Premier League game since the end of the previous campaign – he was not even included in the matchday squad to face Manchester United last weekend.
Seven of Walcott’s eleven appearances this season have come in either the Europa League or League Cup, underlining the fact that he is simply a peripheral figure at the club. The 28-year-old should be in the prime years of career and yet at Arsenal he finds himself as little more than a squad player.
It feels like we have been waiting for the winger to fulfill his potential for the best part of over a decade and he has shown glimpses of talent in recent seasons. However, the problem for Walcott, despite short purple patches of good form, remains that he is prone to injury, inconsistent on the pitch and is quite simply not as good as other figures in the current Arsenal side. It now feels like he has a decision to make.
Does Walcott remain at Arsenal and risk spending the best years of his career stranded on the bench? Or is now the time that he departs the Emirates and goes in search of a fresh start?
One would hope that it is the latter.
Walcott is Arsenal’s longest serving player and it has become increasingly clear in recent months that he is no longer at the forefront of Wenger’s long-term plans. It is time for the winger to move out of his comfort zone and find a Premier League club where he will be a prominent figure who is included in the starting line-up every week and plays over 30+ games a season.
If that means dropping down to a mid-table club or even testing the waters in one of Europe’s other top leagues then so be it, but he desperately needs to be playing games on a regular basis.
There would be no shortage of clubs winning to take the 28-year-old on, although he may have to be willing to accept a reduction in his current hefty wage packet, and he remains an attractive proposition for a variety of top-flight clubs.
He has an abundance of experience and still retains the pace, direct playing style and creativity that once made him one of the most sought-after teenagers in the country. His performance on Thursday evening was a timely reminder that he still has plenty to offer on the pitch – but only at a club that is willing to hand him regular game time.
The right move could rejuvenate Walcott’s confidence, kick-start his career and put him back on Gareth Southgate’s radar with the World Cup just around the corner.
However, one thing is for sure though: there will be no possibility of a return to the international fold if he remains to warm the bench at The Emirates and he would risk wasting away the prime years of his career.