Wal­cott re­vival

> Striker re­dis­cov­ers form to boost Euro ad­ven­ture

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

OUT OF FAVOUR with Ar­se­nal and ex­iled by Eng­land, Theo Wal­cott reached a cross­roads at the end of last sea­son and his em­phatic re­sponse looks to have saved a ca­reer in dan­ger of im­plod­ing.

Wal­cott started only one of Ar­se­nal’s fi­nal 14 matches last term and lost his place in Roy Hodg­son’s Eng­land squad at the end of a mis­er­able cam­paign that ap­peared to shat­ter the winger’s dreams of ever ce­ment­ing him­self as a key fig­ure for club or coun­try.

Now, just months later, ahead of tonight’s Cham­pi­ons League group fix­ture against Swiss side Basel, he has reestab­lished him­self as one of Ar­se­nal’s main men thanks to a des­per­ate clos­esea­son bid for re­demp­tion.

At 27, Wal­cott should have been in his prime, but some­how it seemed ap­pro­pri­ate that a player with elec­tric pace but a frus­trat­ing habit of fail­ing to de­liver the telling cross or clin­i­cal fin­ish, now found him­self firmly on the pe­riph­ery af­ter a ca­reer that once promised to make him a global star.

Faced with the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing sold by Ar­se­nal and for­got­ten by Eng­land, Wal­cott de­cided on a summit meet­ing that laid the foun­da­tions for his re­cent re­nais­sance.

He sat down with Gun­ners boss Arsene Wenger and his lieu­tenant Steve Bould to work out how to get back on track and the ad­vice he re­ceived was sim­ple and to the point – get tougher phys­i­cally and men­tally.

Those gru­elling ses­sions through the dog days of sum­mer, when he could have been sun­ning him­self in Miami, Dubai or any other mil­lion­aires’ play­ground fre­quented by his peers, un­der­lined to both Wal­cott and Wenger that his com­mit­ment to ex­cel­lence re­mained strong.

The trans­for­ma­tive af­fect on Wal­cott’s psy­che was clear to see as soon as Ar­se­nal’s play­ers re­turned for pre-sea­son train­ing.

He was once again the vi­brant pres­ence that burst onto the Pre­mier League stage af­ter join­ing Ar­se­nal from Southamp­ton as a teenager.

Out-shin­ing many of his team­mates thanks to his fine-tuned body and re­newed de­sire to prove him­self, Wal­cott was back in Wenger’s good books and back in the team for the sea­son-opener against Liver­pool.

Wal­cott hasn’t looked back since, start­ing all six Pre­mier League matches and play­ing the full 90 min­utes four times af­ter fre­quently be­ing sub­sti­tuted due to his slump­ing fit­ness lev­els in the past.

Cru­cially, Wal­cott fi­nally seems to have come to terms with Wenger’s pref­er­ence to play him as a right winger rather than a striker.

For years, Wal­cott pined for a cen­tral role in Wenger’s at­tack, but when­ever he played there both Ar­se­nal and the wannabe for­ward un­der­whelmed.

The dif­fer­ence in Wal­cott this sea­son was never clearer than in Satur­day’s Pre­mier League clash against Chelsea.

In a fix­ture that had de­vel­oped into a psy­cho­log­i­cal night­mare for Ar­se­nal af­ter years of los­ing to their Lon­don ri­vals, Wal­cott led the charge as Wenger’s side won 3-0.

Wal­cott proved a con­stant men­ace for the Chelsea de­fence and swept home the sec­ond goal be­fore earn­ing cheers for a rare tackle in de­fence to deny Eden Haz­ard.

It was a per­for­mance that con­firmed Wal­cott’s re­turn to promi­nence and prompted Wenger to pay trib­ute to the winger’s resur­gence.

“I al­ways felt there is char­ac­ter and in­tel­li­gence in this boy,” Wenger said.

“What was a big blow for him was not to go to the Eu­ros.

“He is a guy with a good as­sess­ment of his per­for­mances and qual­i­ties.

“He is 27, a very im­por­tant age. I said many times at the start of the sea­son that we would see a dif­fer­ent Theo Wal­cott.

“I could see he made a de­ci­sion and stuck to it.” – AFP

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