When Theo Walcott joined Arsenal from Southampton for £5million in 2006 he was touted as the next Thierry Henry and viewed as one of the most exciting prospects in English football for decades. Not only did the winger become the youngest ever footballer to play for England at 17 years and 75 days, two years on he set another record as the youngest England player to score a hat-trick for the Three Lions.
Unfortunately, years of injury troubles have meant that Walcott has never fully lived up to his potential. This season, however, the 27-year-old is in red-hot form. Could he finally be about to become the world-class player many thought he would be?
Nine games in to the 2016-17 Premier League season and Walcott finds himself sitting top among all midfielders for goal creation with five goals and two assists. He has managed to get off more shots (28) than any other player, with 61% of those on target. In comparison, Sergio Aguero has an accuracy of 54%. In addition to these promising statistics, Arsenal are one of the most threatening teams in front of goal with a total of 131 attempts and an average of 6.5 minutes per chance.
The Gunners are sitting pretty in second after nine games, while favourites in first – Manchester City- have been struggling in recent weeks. If Walcott continues to nail down his starting berth in the team that could soon go top, he has a strong chance of accumulating his highest ever goal tally for a single campaign.
In fact, Walcott finds himself among the top six contenders for the Golden Boot, with Betway placing the Arsenal man at 25/1 to claim the accolade. Teammate Alexis Sanchez sits slightly ahead of the England international in the bookies’ reckoning thanks to his recent role switch to centre-forward. But with Olivier Giroud eager to make a return and new signing Lucas Pérez also waiting in the wings, Arsene Wenger may decide to revert to his previous formula and deploy the Chilean on the left flank.
This would surely weaken Sanchez’s goal threat and give Walcott a chance to beat the former Barcelona man for goals. The race for the Golden Boot looks wide open this term, as questions over firm favourite Aguero’s role in Pep Guardiola’s City attack have begun to surface. Harry Kane, last season’s winner and another early contender, now seems to be out of the running as well after missing over a month of action through injury.
Walcott has only reached double figures for Arsenal once. In the 2012-13 season he notched up an impressive 14 goals (see above) and 13 assists and looked to be on the path to international stardom. Unfortunately the speedster suffered a cruciate ligament injury in his left knee soon after that outstanding campaign, and it took him a long time to recover.
In the following two terms he only played 860 and then 447 minutes of football. And in the three seasons since 2013, the former Southampton man has bagged a mere five goals in each campaign. The fact that he has already managed five goals in 791 minutes this season is promising, and if the 2006 BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year can remain injury free he could easily break his own record.
Walcott has certainly cemented his position in Wenger’s plans this season, and he would have to go on a terrible run to get dropped as things stand.
Arsenal face tough tests against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, and Manchester City before Christmas, but then their fixtures take a drastically kind turn around New Year.
If he can carry on this form, Walcott could be the league’s leading scorer and the man to beat by the end of January.