Arsène Wenger and his critics agree that Theo Walcott is an ideal captain for Arsenal – but they have very different reasons for that belief. The fans who scoffed when, in the absence of the injured Laurent Koscielny, Walcott led Arsenal out for Wednesday’s comfortable win over West Ham United suggested that was an apt choice because Walcott represents unfulfilled potential, a player with many gifts but apparently not the fortitude or savviness to make the most of them. Wenger has suggested that is balderdash.
He said that the 28-year-old’s career is a case study in determined progress. He also said that the player’s disappointment at being omitted from Gareth Southgate’s most recent England squad has driven Walcott to perform even better for his club.
“He is a guy who cares and wants to do well,” Wenger said. “He has a huge level of focus. I looked at his numbers the other day, he has played wide since the start of the season and he has played 20 games [23, including 21 starts] and scored 10 goals in the Premier League.
“For a wide player that’s quite positive. He has improved his defensive commitment a lot compared to what it was before, he was sometimes a bit less focused on the teamwork. On that front he has improved tremendously. He shows on a daily basis a huge commitment.”
Wenger added that Walcot, who is in his 11th year at Arsenal after joining from Southampton as a teenager, is a suitable symbol of his club’s culture. “I give a little bit of a priority to the guys who know the Arsenal values, who are here for a long time,” said Wenger. “The loyalty for me plays a part in representing the club and he has been very loyal because always, when we have renegotiated contracts, he has given a big priority to loyalty.”
The player has also attached plenty of importance to remuneration, agreeing his most recent contract, in January 2015, after securing a 40% pay rise that took his weekly wage to £140,000.
Wenger said Walcott’s resolve with regard to other issues helps make him an effective leader. “He doesn’t compromise with what he thinks is important. When I have meetings with players he speaks his mind. He is a positive guy.”
Wenger said he was taken somewhat aback by Walcott’s non-inclusion in the England squad for last month’s matches against Germany and Lithuania but is confident that the competition from younger internationals will spur his player on. “I was surprised [at Walcott’s omission] but for England now there is competition. Going forward, you have a young generation with [Jesse] Lingard, [Marcus] Rashford coming up.
“Walcott has the quality, if you look at his career, he can respond to disappointment with good focus. He had a very bad injury [a torn cruciate ligament in 2014] and he came back. When you look at his career in 2006 he was in the World Cup and since he has not been. That is basically 11 years later and he has gone through very early high up and he is still there. That means this guy can deal with disappointment. He can go [to the World Cup] next year.”
Wenger suggested his player could even go as England captain, although he considers that an unlikely appointment. “If you can captain a club team you can captain the national team, it’s similar. But usually that is left more to defenders, to defensive positions, because they are more focused and they see what is in front of them more than strikers. I don’t think that is his target at the moment.”
Arsenal resume their chase for a top four Premier League finish this season by taking on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Monday. Wenger said he has not yet decided who will captain his team for that match.