Arsenal's fleet-footed winger Theo Walcott has admitted he needs to improve on several aspects of his playing style to truly develop as a footballer. The 23 year old speedster has speed to spare, and considerable amounts too, compared to most defenders in the Premier League and indeed even in Europe. He has used that speed well since he first became a regular in Arsene Wenger's side but now feels that alone is not enough to step up to next level.
"At times people just expect me to knock the ball and run but it is not as easy as you think to be honest. As soon as you start doing that, the defender knows what you are doing every time. You need to change it because you can't just be one-dimensional. I am always going to be known for pace, I know that. But the next step is the finishing. I have a lot of assists this season but I don't think I am ever going to lose that," the Englishman told Arsenal.com.
Walcott has had to face criticism, on a fairly regular basis, over the last couple of years, after being variously accused of inconsistency and not understanding the game. In 2010, after a poor display in an international friendly against Egypt, former England winger Chris Waddle waded into the Gunner (who was then only 21 years old). However, such was Walcott's mental strength that he responded with a goal and a fine performance in his next game - a 3-1 win over Burnley. The next year too he received his fair share of criticism and perhaps more, prompting Wenger to come to his defence.
"When you look at Theo, he's a player who you think sometimes 'He could have contributed more', but then you think 'Who scored the goal? Him'. Or 'Who made the pass? It's him'. He's a player who is very efficient. Theo has made progress as a team player. He works very hard. He's naturally a guy who thinks forwards and is working harder for the team," Wenger said, in a report by The Sun. The Frenchman went on to add that he felt the media were to blame for putting players under undue pressure, particularly when the play for the national team.
Walcott has also been accused of not scoring enough goals; he has eight goals (and eight assists) in 34 league games this season. Two of those goals, however, came in the Gunners' remarkable 5-2 win over Spurs - a result and a performance that was monumental, given the club had just come off back-to-back defeats to AC Milan and Sunderland. More importantly, after the Spurs game, club captain and leading scorer Robin van Persie came to Walcott's defence.
"If you speak about my friend Theo, I think it's funny he gets so many critics. He's given me loads of assists and I know and everyone knows he can score. He showed that in this game, he scored two goals and will score more," van Persie stressed, in a report by the Daily Mail.
"You always try but when things aren't going for you in the game you tend to try too hard and nothing goes your way no matter how hard you try. A perfect example would be Tottenham in the first half. I was just trying too hard and it wasn't quite happening. But then I just tried to forget about that, played as a free spirit in the second half and it happened," Walcott explained.
The sentiment was echoed by Wenger, who, when asked if he considered substituting Walcott in that game, after a miserable first half, admitted he did.
"It is a good question because the crowd was starting to get on his back and you wonder if you're doing him a favour if you leave him on. But I felt that he has the qualities to go behind the defenders and nobody else is like that. He is a very direct player. He can miss a first touch but, considering the balance of the team, it was important to keep him in the side," the manager explained, in a report by the Telegraph.
The bottom-line is that as a professional footballer and particularly one playing for an elite club like Arsenal, criticism will be dished out in large and probably unhealthy loads. Supporters are demanding of goals, wins, trophies and success, at almost all costs. It is down to each player to respond to adversities and failures and learn from them. Walcott certainly has those qualities.
"I don't pay any attention to it. I just want to play my game and show people what I can do. I am the best judge of my own performance," the youngster explained, in an ESPN report, after a scrappy 3-2 win over Villa in the FA Cup, back in January.
"Football is a weird game; you have your ups and downs and that is the way it works. Nobody goes out there not wanting to play well, you want to put in 100 per cent but if it isn't going for you then it's just not going for you," Walcott added, in the Arsenal.com report.