When Theo Walcott joined Arsenal at the age of 16 from Southampton’s prestigious academy, there was a lot of hype and expectations on the teenager’s shoulders.
The winger was playing regular football with the Saints in the Championship, despite being promoted from the U18s that same season, and the Englishman also managed to rack up a total of 4 goals in those 21 league appearances.
This alone was enough for Arsenal’s most successful manager of all time, Arsene Wenger, to make a move for Walcott, with the Frenchman having built up an excellent reputation for developing young and unknown talent into global superstars.
However, some have argued that Walcott’s development during his time at Arsenal acted as a representation of Wenger’s gradual decline at the club, as the Frenchman’s time with the Gunners drew closer to an end.
When Walcott joined Arsenal, he was expected by most to become world class. Aged just 17, the winger was England’s youngest ever player, and soon became the Three Lions’ youngest ever hat-trick scorer at 19, when he netted three past Croatia in a 4-1 World Cup qualifying win in 2008.
In his teenage years, Walcott was just as impressive at club level as he was for the national team. The Englishman’s Arsenal career started with a bang, with his first goal for the club coming in the league cup final loss against Chelsea.
Walcott managed 11 goals and 8 assists for the Gunners before he turned 20, a decent return for a teenager, however Walcott’s next objective was to develop and make these numbers his seasonal return.
In the 2010/11 season, Walcott managed this in one of his better seasons at Arsenal, scoring 13 and assisting 9. After a poor previous season that was filled with injuries, there was hope he could push on even further from here.
Walcott’s next season was another strong one, recording 11 goals and 12 assists in 46 games, however it was his following season that could be deemed as his best. Following two seasons without lengthy injuries, Walcott scored an incredible 21 goals in 43 games, whilst assisting a further 16.
Unfortunately for Walcott, his following years were filled with a mixture of injuries and poor form, at least by his early standards.
The winger played a total of 40 games over the next two seasons, which seemed a big blockage in the winger’s development, and in the 2015/16 season, Walcott managed only 9 goals and 7 assists in 42 games. This was a big downgrade from his stats in that superb 2012/13 season.
To demonstrate how important it was for Walcott to have a good run of games in order to succeed, in the season after, the Englishman managed 19 goals in 37 games, an excellent return.
While it was not all his own fault, given injuries were very prominent throughout his Arsenal career, there is a case to be made that Walcott didn’t fulfil what was originally expected of him at a young age.
It could be argued that Walcott was a victim of his own success and hype as a teenager, because if the expectations of him as a youngster were forgotten about, his overall stats at the Gunners were very impressive.
After being bought for £9.75m as a 16 year-old, Walcott scored 108 goals in 398 games for the Gunners, racking up a further 78 assists. The Englishman also gave Arsenal 12 years of service, and you need to be a fairly decent player to be at a club like Arsenal and play regularly for that period of time.
Overall, I feel Walcott’s Arsenal career wasn’t just underrated, but was also a success. For roughly £10m, it’s very hard to call a player who played nearly 400 games and scored 108 goals for your club an underwhelming purchase.
In my opinion, the only disappointing factor about Walcott’s time at Arsenal was that he didn’t become even better, however I would consider it incredibly harsh to call Walcott’s signing a negative one, and I believe his time in North London should be more appreciated than it is.
*all stats provided by Transfermarkt.