Theo Walcott. The name divides opinion throughout the world of football. Some deride the winger for being too inconsistent, frustrating and unfulfilled potential. Others argue he is already the real deal, a key player for club and country.
What is clear is that Walcott has struggled to live up to the media hype that has encompassed his career from the age of 16 when he was unjustly promoted to the England 2006 World Cup squad by manager Sven Goran Erikkson on a off-the-cuff tip from Arsene Wenger.
It is not Theo's fault that he was wrongly selected for that tournament, and that expectations have outweighed the progression of his career trajectory. But the boyhood Liverpool fan has achieved more in the game so far than his critics wish to accept.
Walcott has amassed over 200 appearances for Arsenal in nearly seven seasons at the Emirates since completing his transfer from Southampton in January 2006, eventually totalling £9.1million. Having only just celebrated his 23rd birthday last Friday, Walcott has over 20 England caps and will undoubtedly add more in the coming years.
"I can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against,” - Lionel Messi
Arsenal's number 14 is yet to pick up any club honours, but considering he joined the Gunners in the season after their last piece of silverware, the FA Cup in 2004/2005, with the club embarking on a notoriously barren run since then, this cannot be attributed solely to Theo's contribution.
Similarly at international level it is hardly the fault of Walcott that he has not tasted success with England, and his exclusion from Fabio Capello's 2010 World Cup squad proved more of a blessing than a curse to the London born forward.
Walcott holds the respect of many of his fellow professionals, some of whom are among the leading players in the game. Team-mate Robin Van Persie and Barcelona star Lionel Messi are just two world-class footballers to speak out in his defence.
"I love him, I honestly love him," Van Persie recently said of Walcott. "I don't understand the criticism. Sometimes I feel that people are a bit harsh on him. If you look at his assists' rate, then it is unbelievable. And trust me, he will score. He will get 20 goals at least every season. Have faith in him."
What is clear is that Walcott has struggled to live up to the media hype that has encompassed his career from the age of 16 when he was unjustly promoted to the England 2006 World Cup squad by manager Sven Goran Erikkson
High praise indeed from the Arsenal captain, who is clearly fed up of his right winger being lambasted by press, pundits and fans alike. Messi was similarly effusive in his rating of Walcott, after he changed the game during Barcelona's Champions League clash with the North Londoners two seasons ago.
"I can only speak from experience but he was one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against,” said the diminutive Argentinian.
"When we were playing Arsenal at the Emirates, we were so in control of the game at 2-0 - with all respect, Arsenal were not even in the game - then Theo came on and changed the game. He pretty much single-handedly salvaged a draw against Barcelona that night.”
It is not just Walcott's fellow players who have heaped praise on his abilities but some of the best managers in the world too.
Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola acknowledged the raw acceleration Walcott possesses when he claimed, “You would need a pistol to stop him.” And Arsene Wenger has likened Theo on several occasions to Arsenal club legend and record goalscorer Thierry Henry.
This season Walcott is Arsenal's second highest goalscorer behind Robin Van Persie, easily out firing fellow forwards Gervinho, Andrei Arshavin, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marouane Chamakh.
He shares the most assists at the club this Premier League campaign with Van Persie, holding eight each, lying joint fifth overall in the table. For a player who is often criticised for a lack of end product in the final third, these are damning statistics that suggest the opposite.
Of course Walcott could do better. Like the vast majority of young professional footballers he still has a long way to go to fulfil his complete potential. It just seems like an unfair, almost lazy criticism to downplay his contribution on the pitch.
Gareth Bale, Walcott's friend and former Southampton team-mate, is now considered one of the best wide men in the game. However, it was not always rose petals and success for the Welshman, who endured 24 successive league games for Spurs on the losing side. Now Bale has come good, everyone forgets his traumatic first seasons in North London.
Walcott has not experienced the same failures, although he has also not yet reached the heights Bale has scaled. That is not to say Theo cannot equal, or perhaps even surpass his old Saints colleague, but it does help put the wingers' performances into perspective.
Wenger claimed Walcott had his 'best ever' display under his management during Arsenal's recent 2-1 victory over Newcastle, and he was unplayable at times on the right flank.
Maybe time has come for the doubters to ease off Theo Walcott and start respecting what he brings to this Arsenal team who are lucky to have him.
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