Theo Walcott has ten games to save his Arsenal career and to rebuild his damaged reputation – it looks as though he is relishing the test.
Walcott has been the butt of many Emirates Stadium regulars’ complaints in this most trying of seasons for the Gunners and, while it has been harsh at times, not all of it has been unjustified.
The England winger has struggled for form in a season that has put many of those who follow Arsene Wenger’s side through the proverbial wringer.
A poor goal return and a wasteful nature when in possession have meant Walcott has become a bug bear for those Arsenal fans who voiced dissatisfaction over the way the team were performing earlier this season.
However, there has seemed to be a turnaround of sorts since his brace in the astonishing comeback against Tottenham Hotspur in last month’s north London derby.
He was on the receiving end of some considerably fierce criticism in that game and something seemed to click in the second half, as he responded by taking his goals brilliantly and proving to be a serious threat to a demoralised Spurs defence – a change from his more usual meek response.
This steady improvement was taken up a notch in a scintillating man-of-the-match performance in the last-minute win over Newcastle United a week ago.
Walcott was a constant threat in that game and two of his many incisive crosses set up the goals for Arsenal against a resilient Toon.
Wenger’s team as a whole have improved vastly since falling two goals down in the derby after just 34 minutes and have won every game since. They are on a five-match winning streak in the league and even managed to make a Champions League exit to Milan seem a triumph.
Another member of the squad, Tomas Rosicky, has been transformed back into the player that the Gunners signed from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2006.
Many cynics have put this improvement down to the fact that the Czech Republic captain was looking for the new deal he signed last week.
Rosicky has denied this is the case, but it can hardly be surprising if the prospect of earning a new contract could be some motivation to improve performances.
You wonder if this could be the similar to the feelings Walcott is facing, as there have been reports of Arsenal being open to off-loading him in the summer rather than renew his current contract that runs out in the summer of 2013.
The situations are very different but it is impossible to ignore the fact that both were in negotiations over renewals at the time of their resurgence in form.
If Walcott were to depart Arsenal, it is hard to imagine him getting a similar amount of patience at another club, especially now he is thought of as an established professional.
The abuse Walcott was subjected to has come about due to the glimpses of brilliance, such as the almost unplayable showing against Newcastle, being eclipsed by displays that lacked the quality he is so capable of.
The next ten games will decide whether Arsenal can qualify for the Champions League for the 15th straight year under Wenger and the 23-year-old’s part in the end of the season will impact heavily on the contract offered, or if he is offered one at all.
The Gunners have built up considerable momentum over the past few games and it appears as though this tide of positivity has given the former Southampton starlet the confidence boost he so desperately needs to perform at his best.
In a career punctuated with a number of false dawns, it is difficult to say whether Walcott has really found a high level he can operate at consistently.
He will have never had much greater motivation to push himself to greater levels than he has how – a new deal, the saving of Arsenal’s season and a sport in England’s Euro 2012 squad.
Walcott has always needed confidence and motivation, maybe the crucial ten games to come are what will make his latest glimpse of excellence a true dawn.
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