Sam Wallace: Pressure of last few months has shown Theo Walcott at his best

Arsenal's contract rebel has delivered on his promise that he is best suited in the central striker's role

The disadvantage of being Theo Walcott, it is often observed, is that even though he is only 23 years old, it feels like he has been around for much longer. Accordingly, he gets judged by much higher standards than his peers who have had more low-profile starts to their career.

That much is true. But try looking at it a different way. By the age of 19, Walcott had played 61 games for Arsenal. By means of comparison, by the time Ashley Cole turned 19, he had played just once for Arsenal, in the League Cup, and on the occasion of his 19th birthday he was on loan at Crystal Palace in what is now the Championship. Cole won his first England cap aged 20 and 97 days; Walcott reached a similar milestone more than three years younger, aged 17 and 74 days.

By the age of 21, Walcott had won nine caps for England. Some might consider it a poor return, given that he had made his debut aged 17. But nine caps at the age of 21 is more than Steven Gerrard (four at 21), John Terry (none) and Frank Lampard (none) had won between them. Rio Ferdinand had eight caps by his 21st birthday.

Of course, no one can compete with the prodigy of all recent prodigies, Wayne Rooney, who, among other achievements, had 35 caps at the age of 21, but Walcott's developmental record stacks up pretty well against the rest. His 61 games for Arsenal, plus the 23 he had played for Southampton's first team as a 16-year-old in the 2005-2006 season means that he had more senior games under his belt at 19 than even Michael Owen (70).

Walcott has built a decent career thus far. It would be foolish to pretend that he is the polished, finished article. He is still billed as the inheritor of Thierry Henry's Arsenal legacy, a huge expectation on any player. But the fact that people should make the comparison is an indicator of the standards that were set for him as a 16-year-old. Either way, on Saturday evening, as he scored an accomplished hat-trick against Newcastle, Walcott looked just fine.

Even Alan Hansen, one of Walcott's most trenchant critics in the past, conceded on Match of the Day on Saturday night that the player's recent development has surprised him. Hansen also acknowledged that it has come against the backdrop of the contract stand-off with Arsenal. Indeed, Walcott's uncompromising attitude towards his contract seems to have manifested itself in his performances on the pitch.

When Walcott was told by Arsenal's transfer and contract fixer Dick Law on 24 August that the club insisted he should either sign the offer of a contract or prepare to be sold by the end of the transfer window, he was in a distinctly awkward position.

By that point of the season he had started just one Premier League game, the first in August against Sunderland. Frozen out by Arsène Wenger, he would not start another until 10 November. There was not much sympathy for him among the support. Some of the giddier elements declared themselves happy for him to leave for nothing in July. From that point Walcott turned it around.

The last few months have shown Walcott at his best. From his first start after a thawing of the ice, and three goals in that 7-5 win over Reading in the Capital One Cup, to Saturday's hat-trick he has transformed his situation. He has gone from being left out of the side altogether to delivering, on Saturday in particular, on his promise that he is best suited in the central striker's role.

Of course, there will be times when he still frustrates. A one-on-one with Adam Federici early against Reading in the league game this month which he failed to finish was one such occasion. Yet for a long time Walcott has been forced to fit a template of what people think he should be. It might be time to accept him for what he is.

His development may never match the clean, upwards trajectory of Rooney or even, in his first six years or so, Owen. Walcott is the kind of player who stumbles over a chance one week and then strokes home a more difficult opportunity the next. That just seems to be the way it is for now, but no one could possibly argue that he is not improving.

As for Arsenal, they have made a pig's ear of the contract negotiations. Their hard-line stance over a relatively limited amount of money was too late in the day and now looks petty. The threat to sell in August evaporated over the space of a weekend, and as for being left out the team until he signed, well, it was fortunate for them that Wenger did not pursue that policy for too long. Little wonder that Walcott will not be rushing back to negotiate.

No club can make a player sign a contract, but then no club should wait until 10 months until the end of that player's deal to get tough. Either way, Walcott has called Arsenal's bluff. He has scored 14 goals since they threatened to sell him in August. Given the treatment he has endured from some Arsenal fans, most notably in the Spurs game in February, he might have chosen to keep his head down and stick it out for the free transfer.

It is a personal view that Walcott should stay at Arsenal but, given that he will be expected to sign for five years, for arguably his peak years in the game, you can hardly blame him for trying to get the best deal possible. Even then, his salary will be nothing like the big earners at Manchester City and Chelsea. He will, no doubt, back himself to improve over those years. Certainly, the last four months could have broken him. Instead he has flourished.

Time for Lampard to leave Chelsea on a high

Chelsea's decision not to give Frank Lampard a new contract has become one of those issues that provokes considerable indignation on days like yesterday when he scores twice against a major opponent away from home. The situation is only made more emotive because in the case of Lampard, a favourite of the supporters, he is also 10 goals away from equalling Bobby Tambling's record of 202 goals for the club.

These partings are never easy and Chelsea are not the kind of club where you could imagine a key player making a comfortable move into the margins, as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs have effected at Manchester United. It is a personal view that the great players are best served leaving on a high and, if that is what this season delivers for Lampard, then it could be the ideal time to go.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?