Let us consider Theo Walcott. Let us take stock of his works and his workings. And let us conclude, with awe, that he is perhaps the most Theo Walcott that anybody has ever been; let us acknowledge, with respect, that he is getting ever more Theo Walcotty with each passing day; and let us reflect, with sadness, that once he's finished Theo Walcotting, nobody will ever Theo Walcott so perfectly again.
On Saturday afternoon, Arsenal played Swansea City. That they won should be no great surprise: Arsenal are a very good football team, while Swansea City, though probably not bad in any definitive or fundamental sense, have made a faltering start to the season and just changed their manager. That the game could have ended 7-2 or 3-3, however, is worthy of remark, because it was both consequent from and, as such, a tribute to Walcott, who is, as we've already touched upon, quite the most Theo Walcotty Theo Walcott that ever Theo Walcotted the green earth.
What does it mean to be Theo Walcott? It means, fundamentally, to be trapped in a strange hinterland of blurred expectations and irreconcilable contradictions. To be simultaneously very good and never good enough, in a way that applies to no other footballer. There is absolutely no way that a footballer as good as Walcott — and he is very, very good: look at that second goal against Swansea, look at the smoothness and poise with which he rearranges his body and weight. A flick, a twist, a quick shuffle of limbs, and then the goal — should be as inherently tragicomical as Theo Walcott. It just shouldn't make sense.
Perhaps the wonder of Walcott can be best understood through his age. He is 27. There are plenty of footballers who are surprisingly old, and plenty that are surprisingly young. Walcott, however, is surprisingly both, and he doesn't care that this makes no sense. He feels surprisingly young because he's been around forever, since a combination of circumstance and Sven Goran-Eriksson fast-tracked him into the England squad, and he feels surprisingly old because he's never quite shifted the sense of incompleteness, of potential. Which is not a word that has any business in an article about a 27-year-old.
Plenty of footballers break through young, but for some reason — his essential and irrefutable niceness, perhaps? That lingering air of sixth-form precociousness? — he's picked up the curse of the child star, where all subsequent aging is impossible to accept or process, and as such everything they do is vaguely infuriating. This is almost certainly a grotesque unfairness: were Theo Walcott not Theo Walcott, we'd probably have him happily filed away as a very good, occasionally great, occasionally frustrating footballer. As it is, we can just be grateful that he hasn't decided to kick back at the pricks by making an embarrassing foray into alternative rock before collapsing into cocaine dependency. A vaguely unconvincing beard is as bad as things have got.
We should of course acknowledge that no true hero can be separated from their context, and that Walcott likely wouldn't make sense at any other football club beyond the beautiful, brittle thing that is Arsenal's late Wengerian period. (Seriously, just take a second to imagine him in, say, a Manchester United shirt, and enjoy the subsequent sense of being somehow untethered, of existential weightlessness.) We may never know quite how close he came to leaving over the summer, but there seemed to be a general consensus that things had reached a kind of natural end, and that all the moments, impressive though some of them had been, had never quite cohered into anything beyond, well, Theo Walcott.
That was worrying for Walcott fans — as distinct from Arsenal fans, who likely just want him to be either uncomplicatedly brilliant or uncomplicatedly elsewhere — but so too is the fact that he began this season in excellent form. He's already equalised his league goal return from each of the last three seasons, and he's been scampering around with an unusual and admirable intensity. This is, perhaps, down to the presence of Alexis Sanchez in the nominal striker's role, a selection decision that has nudged our hero back out to the right wing but given him a permanent invitation to come inside. Alternatively, maybe Arsenal are just having their run of title-suggestive form early this season. Still, if we ignore his performances for England, Walcott has been playing very, very well indeed, with an almost un-Theo Walcott-like consistency.
So much so, in fact, that we might — as Walcott swiveled and poked home his second against Swansea, striking like a proper striker — have entertained the thought that this run of form, these goals, this latest positional tweak had finally brought down the guillotine on potential, had set Walcott free from himself. And that state of wondering might have lasted all the way to the second half, which is when Walcott, apparently terrified by the prospect of becoming something other than Theo Walcott, started missing perfectly presentable chances to score his third and kill the game. He hit the bar, he hit the post, he hit every note perfectly. I am Theo Walcott, those misses screamed. Hear me ro— oops.
If so, then fair enough. The prospect of Walcott as somebody other than Theo Walcott is a strange and not altogether happy one. Nobody else Theo Walcotts quite as well, after all, and if he's going to insist on playing well and scoring goals, then it's good to see that the universe will insist that he keeps Theo Walcotting as well. He's got a good few years left in him, and hopefully we can look forward to him Theo Walcotting his way to a retirement that will arrive both sooner and later than we think, and leave behind a career simultaneously admirable and frustrating, impressive and incomplete. God bless Theo Walcott. Long may he Theo Walcott.