Is Arsene Wenger right to persevere with project Walcott?

By Graham McNorthbank

If players were matched to sponsors in terms of their popularity, then I can't think of a more appropriate backer for Theo Walcott than Marmite. Although you'd be hard pressed to find any Gooner who could say, hand on heart, that Theo has lived up to his potential, nevertheless there are fans who will vehemently defend Walcott.

I am not one of them.

In his defense, I have to say that Theo has shown, sporadically, that he is a big game player. But, in my opinion, he is a one trick pony. And all too often, that trick - blistering speed - is forgotten about by the player himself.

If I had a pound for every time an Arsenal attack has broken down because Walcott has been tackled, his control has let him down or - and I find this the most criminal one of all - he runs the ball out of play, then I think I'd be in a pretty healthy position to put a bid in for our number 14 myself.

For me, Walcott's Arsenal career was summed up by his very first touch of the ball this season. It took all of seven seconds. Arsenal kick off, the ball is played back to skipper Thomas Vermaelen who hits a 30 yard diagonal pass straight to Walcott's feet. He fails to control it, the ball skews out for a throw in and Sunderland are handed possession. Needlessly. Cue assorted murmers by the Gooners sitting around me, all of which were along the lines of 'Same old Theo. Useless.'

One thing that continually perplexes me is Arsene Wenger's persistence in picking Theo. He undoubtedly has pace, but there are very few defenders in the Premier League that don't know how to shut him down. Give him the space to run at you, knock the ball past you and he'll leave you for dead. Mark him closely and you nullify the threat.

But in the seven years he has been at the club, he has appeared in 222 first team games so far, notching 42 goals along the way. I'm not suggesting he should have scored too many more, given the position he is asked to play in, but, for the life of me, I cannot understand why all the eggs have been put in one basket, while talent like Carlos Vela weren't given a run of games to prove their worth.

Of course, there is a belief that one of these days, something will click and Walcott will become a genuine star, living up to the reputation that the number 14 jersey used to enjoy. But after six full seasons I just don't follow that reasoning and I can't see anywhere near the progress you'd expect from a professional footballer.

I know he's still only 23, but the lad himself describes himself as "consistent in patches" and quite frankly, if he or his agent reckon that's skill enough to play hard ball with contract negotiations, then I sincerely hope that whispers of a transfer deadline day bid from Liverpool are true.

If a club, albeit a Premiership rival, were to offer anything above £10 million for Walcott, I'd bite their hand off. Theo is a Liverpool fan and that might mean they'd get the best out of him. Who knows, he might even live up to his potential. I'd be prepared to take the risk and use the cash on someone whose consistent patches are a little more, well, consistent.

But Arsene Wenger's insistence yesterday that Theo is going nowhere this summer seems to have quashed such a move and we're now in the ridiculous position where once again a first team player appears to be dictating terms to the club.

Unless, of course, it was a clever piece of brinkmanship by Arsene. One can only hope.

But if Theo does stay, then we need to see a marked improvement in his output. Possessing lightning speed is all well and good, but it shouldn't guarantee his automatic selection on the team sheet. I'm ready to admit I was wrong and change my views on Theo Marmite. However, my genuine fear about him coasting along and providing the occasional assist is that there are other players coming through the ranks who are being deprived of their chance. Ultimately, that isn't the fault of Walcott, but another year of 'same old Theo' will only serve to turn that jar of Marmite into limited edition diarrhoea flavour...