15 September 2008

Players Profile: Theo Walcott (Arsenal)

A series of scintillating performances during his first season in senior football for Southampton was enough to bring Arsenal down to the South Coast to snare Theo Walcott. The 16-year-olds defence-ruining pace and eye for goal was already the worst-kept secret in the Championship before the Gunners beat Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool to his signature. £5m up front, with future fees totaling out at £12m was the agreed fee, a vast amount of money for someone who has played just thirteen professional games. Clearly, Arsenal felt they were on to someone special.

Born in Newbury, Berkshire, Walcott was a sprint champion at school and an outstanding forward in junior football, his ability catching the eye of Southampton who signed him on an apprenticeship in 2004. His rapid journey from schoolboy football to first team starter at St Mary is made all the more remarkable by his slight physique; at just 5ft7" he would appear to be a little on the short side, but as one schoolboy team-mate recalls: People couldnt kick him because they couldnt get near him.
Five goals in thirteen starts for Southampton, dotted in performances that saw him run Championship full-backs ragged, confirmed his quality in the professional game, but the move to Arsenal still remains a gamble.

Arsenal was reportedly Walcott�s choice of club because of the support structure Arsene Wenger has in place for his legion of young players. Coming from a close family, the youngster perhaps feared the anonymity of Chelsea.

His first few months at Highbury proved to be eventuful to say the least. He may not have played at all for the Gunners throughout those months, but England coach Sven Goran Eriksson saw it fit to include the youngster in the squad to travel to Germany for the World Cup finals.

With Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen still not entirely fit, the decision to take only four strikers, one of them the inexperienced Walcott whom Eriksson admitted to having never seen play, attracted much criticism from the media.

When Rooney seemed off the pace and Owen sustained a serious injury during the group game against Sweden many expected Walcott would make an appearance. However, this never materialised and by the time England slumped to a penalty shoot-out defeat to Portugal in the quarter-finals, Walcott had not played a single second of football.

Arsene Wenger therefore decided to take his first full season with Arsenal slowly and Walcott started only 13 games. However, one of those was the Carling Cup final against Chelsea in which the youngster scored his first goal for the club.

His first Premier League goals came in 2007/08, capping a fine campaign. He remains a fringe player, but Wenger is monitoring his development closely, and he is gradually turning into a hugely impressive star.

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