Theo, Theo, Theo! We go back a long way

Watching Theo’s shot bounce back off the post, only to have the ball slow-dance across the line devilishly and deny Theo a hat-trick that night against Swansea was the saddest thing I had to stomach since Schindler’s List. He reeeeeeeaaaaally earned and deserved it.

Teased with a narrative of two football managers; one new on the job, and the other in his 20th year, the 3-2 win for Arsenal came with a few jottings.

One, Granit Xhaka’s necessary unnecessary red card saw a bastard mentality the club were previously desperate for. Two, Mesut Özil scoring brilliantly on his birthday was only going to be a formality. And three, Theo Walcott.

Science could never explain Theo Walcott’s hot and cold patches that will now stretch back ten years when he joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old. Sixteen!

At 16, I was failing calculus and every damn romantic ambition I bothered with. Theo at 16, however, saw his £90 weekly wage rise over a hundredfold, and his humble abode in the Berkshire village of Compton turn into a tourist attraction. Newbury Weekly News had their back page dressed in confetti and trumpets with a frame-worthy headline of King Henry II; a hefty comparison to a certain Thierry Henry.

A late and surprise addition to England’s 2006 World Cup squad saw Theo Walcott shoved further into the limelight at a very bubble-wrapped age and innocence.

“…two touches. One to make the two Chelsea marauders look like a couple of has-beens, and one to start a tragically beautiful love story.”

“Potential” was the one word that really got to me. “The kid has potential.” “He’s 16, full of potential.” “The potential to be our next Thierry Henry.” His first goal for Arsenal came against Chelsea in the 2007 Football League Cup final, and he took it frighteningly well.

Retrieving the ball from an incoming Ukrainian tackle in Andriy Shevchenko, Theo spun his way out before releasing the ball to Abou Diaby. He carried on, oh boy, did he carry on; controlling his pace in his new-found space, before receiving the ball again.

At this point, you, as a fan of the game, find yourself uncomfortably adjusting your sitting position as your body toggles between hopefulness and hopelessness.

What’s it going to be, Theo? You’ve got two iceberg-sized war-horses in Carvalho and Lampard breathing down your neck. You’re expected to falter. There’s no way you could weave yourself free from the expectations of the Arsenal faithful. No way you would escape the wrath of the rasping media correspondents ready to shit down your back as soon as you fail. No way you could wrangle past the confusions of puberty you’re still going through. What is it going to be?

Two touches. One to make the two Chelsea marauders look like a couple of has-beens, and one to start a tragically beautiful love story.

Sharing a cheeky grin whilst holding up his new shirt number for the club (14), formerly of the club’s top goalscorer, Theo turned potential into promise and prophecy. Perhaps the drooling viciousness of England’s media heightened the expectations further, but all of us were okay with it, weren’t we?

Theo being pushed out of his preferred central striker role into the clamorous job-descriptions on the wings for Arsenal became a regular ordeal. Sadly, as did his injuries. Very “chicken and egg” situation this; it didn’t matter which happened first, we just had both to deal with now.

That “potential” we all gossiped about was now evident and exhibited, but what’s happened since? Not much.

I know “fringe” would be a grim characteristic for someone who showcased the honesty and modesty that Theo always carried with him, but he did shy away from the limelight that once beamed shit-hot. I’d say he genuinely was only ever on the news because of his performances; sizzlingly good or frustratingly bad, or for reminding Tottenham fans of the score (it was 2-0). He didn’t create his own hashtag, nor did he have 18 different hairstyles in two weeks. He just… Didn’t look good enough with a football anymore.

But when he did, oh and when he does… From that run at Anfield, that hat-trick against Newcastle, or that one time he did donuts around another Chelsea defense to pull Arsenal ahead at Stamford Bridge.

—- I really really really don’t want to jinx it because it’s about to get lyrical —-

Just the few days left till November yet, but Theo Walcott has brought it on with every performance this 2016/2017 season. He went in on Eden Hazard earlier when Arsenal led against Chelsea and killed their attack dead, and I splooshed myself. There was life in this guy yet.

Going back to that Swansea game, Theo’s brace came in the box, and right in front of the goal, getting involved with two scrappy instances, looking determined to get the second, third, or fourth bite of the sweet cherry. He’s scored 8 already, including that thunderbastard against a team called Ludogorets that I thought was a type of gummies. But it was his brace against Basel really made me believe in love and forgiveness again.

He started on the right (obvs.) but as he has been this season, showed up ball-hungry in the box and lunged to head Arsenal in front. His second? Scarier.

Simple too. Got the ball, demanded an injection, got the ball back from Alexis Sanchez, and left 4 defenders in, his, wake. Not a prayer. That reverse-reverse-alternate angle the broadcasters finally showed, showed Theo’s charge and control for every fabric of that move, and the flash in his eye when he knew this one, he was finishing.

Strength in numbers

As far as the new signings go, Shkodran Mustafi, who defends louder than his off-the-pitch humility would suggest, and Granit Xhaka’s bad boi disposition, have both complemented Arsenal’s maturing ambitions. Six wins on the trot in the league after a messy start, even the ArsenalFanTV cast have become less miserable, and rightly so; if you’ve got Mesut Özil passing it into the back of the net habitually, and you find yourself worrying about where you would fit a returning Aaron Ramsey into the pool of able midfielders, you should graciously welcome the happier days ahead.

I suppose it will all boil down to May 2017 so we assess positions and statistics before we go at each other on Twitter, but the early signs point toward the promised land. We may trip, we may fall, and we will be mocked for staying with a man who couldn’t win us a league title in 12 years (it’s Mr. Wenger to you), but I just think it’d be bloody fun if we were good again.

And as for Theo, well, we go back a long way.

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