Whisper it…but Theo Walcott has actually been quite good this season

For many Arsenal fans, the merest mention of Theo Walcott’s name provokes a reaction somewhere between rage and despair.

The 27-year-old has been at the club for a decade but has only ever shown flashes of the talent which made him such an exciting signing all those years ago, when Arsene swooped to snatch him from the academy system at Southampton.

A series of injuries, contractual disputes, and losses in form have seen him in and out of the Arsenal side over the years, much to the frustration of fans who feel they have never quite seen his promise turn into product.

It’s fair to say that many would not have been surprised to see Theo moved on over the summer, especially with the wealth of talent in the Arsenal midfield.

But, throughout the lean times, and the relatively good, Arsene has stuck by the England international, showing tremendous belief in a player who, it would not be unfair to say, has not always put his body on the line for the cause.

So it was no surprise therefore, that his inclusion in the side that travelled to Hull on Saturday was met with howls of derision and accusations of gross incompetence from the manager.

Frankly, I was comfortable with his inclusion in the squad, particularly as he has shown some really quite promising improvement since the season began, and the last thing a player in form needs is benching.

It was great to see, therefore, after having stuck my neck out, that Theo was again in good shape at Hull. He was making intelligent runs beyond Alexis, he was tracking back (on occasion), he was prepared to turn and run, and he was actually making some dangerous crosses.

According to Squaka, Theo had five shots on goal at the KC Stadium, created two chances, put in three crosses, and registered a pass success rate of 90 per cent. An excellent performance by any measure, and the highlight of a promising start to his league campaign.

Compared to the player who chose to jump out of the way of a tackle at Sunderland last year instead of breaking through on goal, the updated Theo Walcott of recent weeks has proven something of a revelation.

Last season was, for my money, one of Theo’s worst in an Arsenal shirt, and saw him return just five goals and two assists from 28 league appearances, with two goals and an assist in the Champions League to boot.

Defensively, he wasn’t even averaging a single tackle or interception across the entire league season.

It is still very early in the current season, but already we have seen Theo score two and create another goal in the league.

On average, he is attempting double the number of passes per game, his success rate is better, and he is attempting far more crosses.

From a defensive point of view, he is attempting and making more tackles than he ever has and he is also sharp with his interceptions and clearances.

Quite where this current improvement has come from is anybody’s guess. Perhaps another major international tournament passing him by proved to be something of a motivator for him, or maybe he sat down with Arsene and the pair discussed his future at the club.

Whatever the case may be, his early season form is indicative of someone who has worked hard to make improvements to his game. He was accused many years ago of lacking a football brain, something, it was argued, you cannot simply learn.

On the showings we have seen thus far, it would appear Theo is at last listening and learning.

He may never be as naturally gifted as Ozil, who makes the improbably seem effortless, but if he works hard and listens to those around him, he can make more of his talent.

That said, we should not get too carried away, for a good start is simply that – a start. What everybody wants to see if for him to carry that sort of form on for a significant part of the season. Nobody is on top of their game all of the time, most fans understand that, but we can’t simply have five or six game streaks from Theo – not any more.

He needs to take the excellent form he has shown early in this campaign and convert it into an excellent season.

Barring major injury, there can’t be any more excuses for him. Both fans and the manager have been extremely patient and willing to accommodate him. But he is not 22 any more, he is 27 and should be at the pinnacle of his career.

He should be terrorising defenders with his pace and his running, and collecting 15 goals a season with his finishing.

Given what we have seen so far, I think Arsene will continue to start Theo on the right and I hope that the show of faith and the run of games will allow him at last to show what he is capable of.

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