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Looking back at Theo Walcott’s decade at Arsenal

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Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of Theo Walcott joining Arsenal from the famous Southampton academy in 2006. There was quite a bit of media attention when the 16-year-old speedster made the switch to north London. While many young players move from club to club throughout any given transfer window, this deal was different. After all, at the time of Walcott’s move to Arsenal, he was the most expensive 16-year-old in the history of British soccer (a fee that was ultimately set at £9 million two years following the transfer).

Walcott was seen as something special ahead of his move to Arsenal. A combination of electric pace and versatility made the youngster a transfer target of other clubs such as Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Upon making the transfer to Arsenal official, manager Arsene Wenger praised his new signing.

“Theo Walcott is a very young player, but has already shown in his performances for Southampton that he is a talented player with huge potential,” stated Wenger. “I also like the fact that he is a versatile player who is incredibly dedicated, shows great determination to succeed and is blessed with electric pace.”

The legendary French manager also made comparisons between Walcott and previous teenage sensation turned Premier League star.

”We are delighted Theo has signed for the club and will make a fantastic addition to our squad. He is comparable to Wayne (Rooney) at his age,” Wenger suggested. “You have to be cautious with comparisons. Rooney has made big steps forward and justified what people said about him and I feel Theo can do the same.”

Theo would make his Premier League debut with his new club on Aug. 19, 2006 against Aston Villa. At the time, Walcott’s appearance meant that he was the second youngest Arsenal player to ever feature in a top flight match (behind Cesc Fabregas). The winger went on to make 32 total appearances during his rookie season, including six Champions League matches.

While Walcott continued to progress as a young player, perhaps his breakout moment came during a Champions League quarterfinal match against Liverpool.  With Arsenal trailing the massive match 2-1 in the 83rd minute, the then 19-year-old picked up the loose ball on the edge of his own penalty box, ran the length of pitch while weaving in and out of opposing players and placed a perfectly weighted square ball to Emmanuel Adebayor to level the match (at the moment, the 2-2 match would have seen Arsenal advance to the semifinals due to the away goal rule).

Walcott was only on the pitch for 12 minutes before the big assist to the Togo international. Despite the youngster’s contribution, the Gunners gave up two Liverpool goals in the final three minutes and were subsequently knocked out of the European competition.

The winger/forward went on to average nearly 37 appearances during his first six seasons in north London. Walcott’s seventh season (2012/13) with Arsenal would prove to be his best goalscoring output of his career. As Wenger tinkered with the idea of deploying Walcott at the center forward position, Walcott went on to net 21 total goals, including two hat tricks during the campaign. The first came during a thrilling 7-5 League Cup victory over Reading in Oct. 2012; the second was two months later, in a 7-3 thumping of Newcastle United. The latter match is arguably Walcott’s best overall performance in an Arsenal kit.

With Arsenal legend Thierry Henry looking on in the crowd, Walcott produced a “Henry-esque” finish for his first goal. For his second, the center forward for the day smashed the ball into the roof of the net from just outside of the six-yard box. However, Walcott certainly saved his best goal for last. To complete his hat trick, Walcott beat four Newcastle defenders on the left flank, went to ground, got back onto his feet and deftly chipped the keeper. The final goal of the match is arguably Walcott’s greatest ever in an Arsenal kit.

Since the 2012/13 season, Walcott suffered a serious knee injury which forced him to miss around 10 months of action on the pitch. While sidelined, the forward missed the chance to feature in Arsenal’s 2013/14 FA Cup final against Hull City. The Gunners went on to bring home the cup, which subsequently ended their trophy drought.  Walcott, however, was fit enough to play in the FA Cup deciding match a year later, scoring a goal and helped Arsenal record back-to-back FA Cup final victories.

Some can say that Walcott has not performed up to his lofty hype since joining the Gunners 10 years ago; however, the England international has netted 80 goals and added nearly 70 assists during his time with the Gunners up to this point. The Gunner also has the distinction of being labeled a “dangerous player” by the number one player on the planet, Leo Messi. At just 26, there is still plenty of gas left in the tank for Walcott to become an Arsenal legend.

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