Theo Walcott produced another fine display this weekend, cementing the fact that he is arguably Arsenal’s most in-form player. Having been used sporadically by Arsene Wenger thus far, the winger has emerged from pre-season as one of the first names on the Gunners team sheet.
Since his arrival as a raw youth from Southampton, Walcott the player has symbolised Arsenal the team as a whole – full of potential but yet to blossom consistently. Indeed, inconsistency is a trait which can be forgiven at a young age, as in the English Premier League any slightly-built teenager requires much more time to settle than is allowed from expectant fans fed by a media hell-bent on overhyping players before they even pass their driving test. However, at last Walcott is beginning to contribute more on a weekly basis. His clinical finish against Blackburn reeked of the previous adorner of his number 14 shirt, Thierry Henry – who is clearly a huge influence on the youngster. In fact, everything about Walcott says Henry. His style, poise and cool celebrations mirror the Frenchman in every way. The only way Theo can come even close to fully emulating the Arsenal legend is by continuing this sudden surge in progression, after questions were beginning to be raised as to whether he would ever develop into the player that was predicted.
It is however, all too easy to jump on bandwagons. The British press have a knack of basing entire opinions on players on things that happen within one or two matches. This then gets escalated further and further before players are being either criticised or over-praised by people who just repeat what they hear other people saying. There is a danger of this happening in the case of Walcott, who was famously this week criticised by Alan Hansen who suggested the player lacked a “football brain.” In context, Hansen’s comments can be deemed fairly reasonable – more constructive than an outright negative assessment. The reaction by Gunners fans and more to Hansen is understandable, yet the pundit did no harm in playing down a few good performances until Walcott starts producing class on a regular basis. This is the player who, according to the Sky Sports commentary team in last season’s Champions League second leg against Barcelona, came off the bench to “terrorise” the Catalonian’s defence. Did he really “terrorise” the Barcelona defence? Or did he pick up the ball, run very fast in a straight direction and scuff a shot under Victor Valdes that should really have been saved? There is no doubt Walcott harbours pace to burn among many other attributes, however there are still many which he lacks on. Arsenal is the right club for him to hone these skills with patience and, especially, encouragement also being necessary. Nonetheless, an element of caution must be taken by an English football nation all too desperate to cling to the idea that they can still produce a young player of the highest quality at a time when, if being brutally honest, few others are appearing on the horizon.
Another encouraging feature of the victory against Blackburn was the return to the starting eleven of long-term Barcelona target Cesc Fabregas. With the English Premier League season now three games in and the transfer window closing date imminent, Gunners fans will be thankful that the tiresome transfer saga can be put to bed, for the time being at least. The Blaugrana’s capture of Argentinean anchorman Javier Mascherano cemented the fact that the Catalonians have conceded defeat momentarily in their pursuit of Arsenal’s number four. In an almost macabre fashion, many Gunners fans may also be relieved Fabregas only played a minor role in Spain’s World Cup victory this year, for had he produced a dazzling display then Arsenal would have faced an even stronger battle to keep him at the Emirates Stadium. Fabregas’ brief glimpses of mind-blowing vision on Saturday at Ewood Park proved enough to suggest that an Arsenal without the Spanish talisman would be an Arsenal too weak to sustain a title challenge. He can clearly do things that no other Arsenal player can.
For too long now, Arsenal have been a team of fantastic potential. However there is only so long that the Gunners faithful will be content with fancy flair and future promise. The steely victory over Blackburn added weight to the suggestion that Arsenal could be beginning to show a balance between youthful flair and gritty experience – a potential combination that could accommodate this long-awaited sustained title challenge.