A blur of red and white on the Emirates touchline, Theo Walcott has proven himself one of the most incendiary home-grown talents to have emerged from the Premier League in years. His style – a cocktail of blistering speed, precision delivery and fluid movement – has made him a firm favourite amid the Arsenal favourite and an England champion in waiting.
Though Walcott at 16 earned a surprise call up to the 23 man England squad that travelled to the 2006 World Cup aged, his rise to status as one of Europe’s finest players has actually been – in contrast to his incredible pace on the pitch – more of a slow burner. The performer so often derided in his early seasons at Arsenal as too unsure of himself and without the footballing brain to match his speed has in recent seasons been replaced by an intrepid wide man, as astute as he is agile, with supreme versatility too – in former Arsenal teammate Robin van Persie’s absence, Walcott would often play in an advanced striker role, in a guise reminiscent of Thierry Henry.
Described by Lionel Messi as “one of the most dangerous players I’ve ever played against,” Walcott signed to the Gunners from Southampton in 2005 for a fee of £5 million which would eventually rise to £12 million after appearances for club and country. Boss Arsene Wenger saw in him the potential to become one of the best players to grace the Emirates – but it was his graciousness and warm demeanour off the pitch that won him the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twelve months later.
Since, the Londoner has gone from strength to strength, overcoming intense personal disappointments – he was famously omitted from the 2010 World Cup squad, to the astonishment of many of his would-be teammates and opponents – en route to becoming an England regular. His impact at Euro 2012, scoring an important equaliser from long range and providing a brilliant assist in a thrilling victory over Sweden, all but confirmed the sentiment held by many – that in 2010, former England coach Fabio Capello got it wrong.
In the words of since-departed Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, “you would need a pistol to stop Theo Walcott” - a fitting description for a true Gunner.