Theo Walcott: Still haunted by trophy-hunter ambitions

If you measure a successful career in silverware then Arsenal's winger has not achieved anything. And, as he tells Steve Tongue, that's not good enough
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It was this very weekend in September 2006 that Theo Walcott's first major interview as an Arsenal player was published and towards the end of it he was asked where he wanted to be in five years' time. "Playing for Arsenal and doing well" was the first target. Check. "A couple more appearances for England and establishing myself there." Check. "And trophies, that's what I really want. Trophies." Ah, yes, trophies.

Now a grand old man of 22, who went to a World Cup he shouldn't have and missed the one he ought to have been at, he is obliged to confront the fact that one BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award is considerably less than he would have hoped for when bursting into the national consciousness as a £10m teenager with the football world apparently at his feet. Then there are the undeniable facts that he has still not been given a run in his favourite position as a striker; that Arsenal's season has begun problematically in terms of results and personnel; and even that his contract is up in 18 months' time, when some hard thinking may need to be done.

Unfailingly polite as ever, but with a harder edge than was previously discernible, he is blunt about those missing trophies: "Trophies are the thing you're gonna look back on in the history books. Look at [Ryan] Giggs, a great example, and the trophies he's won. You want to show your kids what you've won and what you've achieved in your life and, um, nothing so far. We've been so close, The Carling Cup last year when I was injured, and against Chelsea in the [2007] final, when I got my first goal. Nearly there. So it's got to be this year. It has to be. We've got to believe we can do it with the slow start we've had."

Is that realistic, with a squad that lost Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy, and rushing to sign replacements in the last few days of the transfer window? "Anything's possible still. In previous years Manchester United haven't started too well and still bounced back well from it, so there's nothing to worry about now it's only five or six games in. There's plenty of time."

Mention of United in an Arsenal context will for years to come bring the astonishing phrase and scoreline "8-2" to mind. The players, Walcott says, need to forget it and move on. "As a defensive unit, not just the back four, we weren't at it. We managed to score two goals, which we haven't done for a long time at Old Trafford, and you want to get something out of that. But then going in at half-time at 3-1, and the goals start coming, heads start to drop. It wasn't nice to be part of.

"Great credit to our fans because we let them down there and that should never happen. Probably the international break came at a good time because the club were under a lot of pressure. That gave us a bit of a respite. Getting the Swansea result [1-0] was great, but then scoring three goals at Blackburn and losing to a team that had been struggling to score..."

It was surprising to see him left out of the starting XI at Blackburn, even if there had been a tough game in Dortmund four days earlier, when Arsenal began their latest Champions' League campaign with a 1-1 draw that felt like a defeat after conceding a late equaliser.

They resume on Wednesday in what looks a winnable game at home to Olympiakos, when he would like to be involved from the start in a competition that has provided many of his best moments at club level: "There's just something about it that seems to suit the way I play. There's generally more space. It's the big stage, against the best clubs from their respective countries, night matches with a great atmosphere – Dortmund was the best atmosphere I've been involved in for a very long time."

Perhaps his mind strayed back to Germany five years ago, as a shock – some said shocking – selection for Sven Goran Eriksson's World Cup squad. "I didn't think I deserved to be there," he admits. Which did not prevent an equal jolt at being left out by Fabio Capello for South Africa, having literally packed a bag. "I felt I should have gone but it hasn't been eating at me, I've just got on with it."

Playing is one thing; playing in his favourite position another. From an improbably late beginning as a 10- year-old who had never previously been interested in football, he scored goals – nine in his first two games, 100-plus in a season – and believed he was a striker. Arsenal and England still seem to think otherwise and it was as recently as that Dortmund game that his new boldness prompted him to remind Arsène Wenger of his ambitions.

"A couple of years ago I wouldn't go up to the manager, that shows how much I've changed. I sat down with him after the game and asked if I'd get the opportunity to play up front, just being completely honest with him, saying at times I feel I'm a little bit wasted on the wing. But he took it on board and said he'd give me the opportunity. Hopefully that will be very soon because I can give a lot more up front. I'm ready for it. The boss was saying that physically you need to be able to take some kickings but physically I can take that. I've always believed I'm a striker and I'll always believe I will be."

The "kickings" have not stopped down the years. The difference now is that surprised opponents are more likely to get a dig back. "I've already got three bookings, I don't know how I've done that," Walcott says with an innocent air.

"This season I won't take anything from anybody. When I had my shoulder injuries I was a target for full-backs who knew my weakness was that my shoulders could dislocate, which isn't nice. I'm growing up now and I can look after myself."

No more Mr Nice Guy? He is not about to turn into Peter Storey, but young Theo is growing up. There is a new determination about him that should not be underestimated by friend or foe.

'Theo: Growing Up Fast' by Theo Walcott is published by Bantam Press, £18.99

This week in the Champions' League


Bayern Munich v Manchester City (7.45, Sky Sports 2)

After an unsuccessful season by their high standards, finishing only third in the Bundesliga, Bayern have started much better this time and top the table. A 2-0 win away to Villarreal to open the Champions' League campaign confirmed their form and City will need to improve on their hesitant defensive performance in the 1-1 draw at home to Napoli to take anything from the game.

Manchester United v Basle (7.45, Sky Sports 4)

The old firm of Marco Streller and Alex Frei are still going strong for Basle, if not Switzerland, and Frei's penalty won the opening group game against the Romanian outsiders Otelul Galati. But the club's record in England is poor and it would be a huge shock if they were to dent United's run of only one defeat in their last 32 Champions' League games at Old Trafford.


Arsenal v Olympiakos (7.45, Sky Sports 2)

The Greek champions, although regular European participants, could be forgiven for having an inferiority complex in England, where they have lost on all nine visits, managing only one goal (at Liverpool) and conceding 29. Arsenal scored two of those, late on, two seasons ago and should be able to continue using the competition to improve their fluctuating form and morale.

Valencia v Chelsea (7.45, ITV1)

Juan Mata makes an early return to his former stamping ground, having quickly established himself as an important element of the new Chelsea by scoring on his European debut for them against Bayer Leverkusen. That victory, laboured though it was, set them up well for the group, especially as Valencia managed only a goalless draw in Genk despite having 19 attempts on goal.

Steve Tongue