Henry inspired Walcott finally convinces the doubters
Published: 01.01.13 / Written by: David Gold
Close your eyes for a moment and open them again and you may have thought it was Thierry Henry playing against Newcastle last Saturday.
Theo Walcott was dazzlingly brilliant, his running and finishing causing no end of problems for the visitors.
The fourth goal was typical of the maturity now in Walcott’s game. Receiving a pass from Kieran Gibbs in the centre of the penalty area and with men around him, a lesser player, or even the Walcott of old, may have been tempted to snatch at the shot on the turn. It may have worked anyway. Yet what Walcott did was far better. He swivelled, taking his time and remaining composed to get himself into a posture where he would have most control over the shot and placed a confident finish into the top of the net with players closing him down. That was like the Henry of old.
The first goal was even more like Henry though. Receiving the pass from Lukas Podolski on the left hand side of the pitch, Walcott burst forward, could not be caught and placed a calm finish round Tim Krul and into the bottom corner. Arsenal fans will have remembered a similar finish once by Henry against Liverpool. The seventh goal, Walcott’s hat trick, was also reminiscent of Henry. From a standing start, Walcott used his quick feet to manoeuvre himself between two defenders, then went down under a challenge from two more, before rising to his feet and having the composure to chip Krul. It was reminiscent of when Henry once danced in between four Liverpool defenders inside the penalty area at Highbury to score, as well as the goal he once netted against Leeds, when the Frenchman steered the ball into the net despite falling over.
The quick feet to get between Newcastle’s defenders showed a marked improvement in Walcott’s game. Often in the past he has been guilty of trying to take on defenders from a standing start and being predictable, thus losing the ball. He has learned when to take a defender on and when not to. And he has learned how to go from a standing start into a dribble too, making shorter movements and touches on the ball to send a defender one way before sending the ball the other.
It all adds up to the maturing of a prodigious talent into a genuinely top class forward. Walcott has been derided in the past, but he has convinced the doubters after Saturday’s display. Question marks have always hung over the clearly talented Englishman. Yet all too often he has failed to live up to his billing. There have been flashes over the years, but Saturday marked Walcott’s transition from sometimes star into consistent performer. He has netted 35 per cent of his shots this season, the best ratio of any player to have taken more than five shots. He is scoring regularly, not dipping in and out of form, and is regularly influencing the game.
And from centre forward too. Walcott has always wanted to play there, and though he must accept that his pace and the system Arsenal use mean he will have to spend time on the wing, he has proven to Wenger and everyone else that he can do it in the centre, where he wants to be played. That is at the heart of the contractual dispute that means he can now talk with other clubs about signing for them this summer. It said a lot that in the last game before he was able to talk to another club, he performed so marvellously and announced that he was ready to be a mature top class forward. Now Wenger and Arsenal must surely make Walcott the offer of the contact that he craves, and ultimately, deserves.