Sometimes, it all comes together. Theo Walcott has these moments, when you understand what Arsene Wenger saw in him six years ago, when he purchased him from Southampton before his 17th birthday. His 30 minutes on the Kiev pitch, leading England to a 3-2 win over Sweden.
First there was the goal off the corner. It took a deflection of a Swedish player. Walcott himself seemed stunned that it went in. He’s not used to score these kinds of goals. His assist to Danny Welbeck 14 minutes later was classic Walcott, in the way everybody expects him to play every time he’s on the pitch.
This was a breakout season for him at Arsenal, in a way. He didn’t score in double figures like some people thought he would by now, at 23. No one has really figured out if he’s a classic winger, striker or some sort of hybrid forward. I’m not sure there’s an answer.
But Walcott has been much more dominant when Arsenal played well, which was directly dependent on how well he played. His combination with Robin van Persie was the deadliest in the Premier League at times. But that accurate, sharp and deadly Walcott doesn’t show up too often. No one, especially not Arsene Wenger, have yet to realize where does this consistency go to and how to find it, tap in to it again.
Maybe it’s the positioning, and the pressure. Walcott played off of two strikers on Friday night, replacing James Milner but not being limited to playing a right midfielder. He isn’t that type of player. He’s at his best when he drifts from the wing into the space he creates between a full back and a centre back. It’s nearly impossible to stop him when gets a full head of steam built up.
Just like in the 5-3 win over Chelsea earlier in the season. Just like in the 5-2 win over Tottenham. Not magic. Just a good understand and perception of space to use, and delivering the right pass at the right time. Expecting magical runs like in that Champions League match against Liverpool in 2008 is simply doing the young man injustice.
A few minutes later he looked to injure his ankle. Typical of Walcott, who always seems to be struggling with his health and fitness. It was OK in the end. England won the match, mostly due to Walcott’s entrance.
Should he start in the next match? Probably not. James Milner played well on both ends, but was simply exhausted after 60 minutes. England may have gotten the equalizer without Walcott, who changed the game with his creativity and speed. But it seems that putting him in the lineup is always somewhat of a gamble. He seems to feeling better when enters the game off the bench, blending into the mayhem and thriving in it. It may be the difference between another English disappointment and a pleasant surprise.