KIEV, UKRAINE - JUNE 15: Theo Walcott of England crosses as Sebastian Larsson of Sweden tries to block it during the UEFA EURO 2012 group D match between Sweden and England at The Olympic Stadium on June 15, 2012 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
Theo Walcott has often been the forgotten man for England. Last night against Sweden, though, he reminded everyone that he has a lot to offer Roy Hodgson's team, with a sparking performance off the bench.
International football has not been an easy thing for Theo Walcott. In 2006, he was the Golden Boy, the future of England after being chosen for the World Cup at the tender age of 17 despite not playing a single Premier League game. Walcott didn't play a single minute in the World Cup, and since then has become a rather forgotten figure on the England team. He was left out for the 2010 World Cup, and, with the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, had been dismissed from many minds.
It seems unfair, seeing as Walcott is coming off a fairly good season from Arsenal, one where he performed well in many of their big games; scoring in both legs in the Champions League qualifier, and against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and against Tottenham at home. He can be inconsistent, but when the situation is right for him, Walcott can be devastatingly effective. For England, though, he's never played as well as he has for his club side. That's hardly unique to Walcott, though, since hardly any England player plays as well for country as they do for club. Walcott, though, looks like a completely different player, largely because he's asked to do something very different for England than he does for Arsenal.
For England, Walcott is usually asked to keep the width, with Fabio Capello famously saying he'd "kill [Walcott] if he came inside again" during one pre-World Cup training session. Staying out wide, though, is hardly Walcott's strength. He was signed by Arsene Wenger as a striker, and still considers himself one despite the fact that he's played on the right since joining Arsenal. At Arsenal, he combines the two roles and plays as an inside forward, keeping width but also coming inside and running the channels, making him an effective partner for Robin van Persie. This is his best position, and this is where Roy Hodgson has let him play in the three games Walcott has played in.
Against Sweden, the situation was perfect for Walcott: It was a big game, Hodgson was going to let Walcott play his preferred role, and the left back, Martin Olsson, was ripped apart by Walcott when Arsenal beat Blackburn, 7-1, in early February. And, for the first time since he hit a hat trick against Croatia in 2008, Walcott delivered for England. His assist was his trademark; a burst down the inside right channel and a cutback to the near post where the waiting striker finished expertly. It's happened many times over the past two seasons, with the only difference being Danny Welbeck the scoring striker instead of van Persie.
Not only was it Walcott's trademark assist, but it was also very intelligent play. Walcott had collected the ball in the midfield at the beginning of the move, and instead of trying to take players on and end up losing the ball, he dumped it off and England held possession. Later, with Glen Johnson overlapping, he made the perfect run into the inside-right channel, where he received possession to cutback for Welbeck. His cross for Steven Gerrard at the back post was more intelligent play; he saw two England players were free and had a better shot at goal.
For someone who is often accused (sometimes by people employed by his own club) of not having a "football brain" and lacking "end product," last night's performance would've been extremely satisfying for Walcott. Not only did he prove that he can perform on the big stage for England, and show that he has been improving as a footballer, but in the wake of the Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hype, he also reminded people that there was another winger, a player who can be more effective for England. And, to borrow Martin Tyler's commentary for February, "Well I can tell you, it's Theo Walcott!"