In a poll to rank Arsenal’s 50 greatest ever players conducted by the club a decade ago, 12 of the top 20 slots were filled by forwards, wingers or attacking midfielders.
From Thierry Henry at No1 to Ray Parlour at No19, supporters’ embrace of the adventurous was demonstrated in many of the names cherished most dearly. Other Gunners making up the top 50 included Henry’s former team-mate Sylvain Wiltord, Nicolas Anelka at No29 and 70s forward Frank Stapleton at No47.
Theo Walcott, offloaded to Everton for £20m this week after 12 years at the club, scored as many or more goals for Arsenal than all but six of the players on the list. The tallies of Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Marc Overmars, Nwankwo Kanu, Charlie George, David Rocastle, Charlie Nicholas, Paul Merson and Wiltord all trail Walcott’s 108 goals.
At the time of the poll, Walcott was just a promising 18-year-old who it was hoped would become an Arsenal great; a name to jostle among those at the top end of that list.
Two years earlier he had become the most expensive 16-year-old in the history of British football, when Arsenal paid £12m to Southampton for his signature. Expectations were only raised further when he was then called up to the England squad for the 2006 World Cup.
In 2008 he was still to establish himself as a permanent member of Arsenal’s starting XI, but there had been enough flashes — a goal in the League Cup final, eye-catching assists away to AC Milan and Liverpool stood out — to keep hopes high.
Few may have expected Walcott, at just 28, to be flogged to a club below Arsenal in the Premier League having been effectively frozen out of the first team for months.
Now, the idea of Walcott’s outsized figure standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the walls of Emirates Stadium alongside the club’s most iconic names might not be greeted with universal approval by the fans inside.
Injuries have plagued Walcott's Arsenal career (Source: Getty)
With his 108 goals in 397 games, Walcott’s record of a goal every 3.67 games outpaces many legendary midfielders of the club’s history such as Rocastle (8.1), Merson (4.3) and Ljungberg (4.6) but falls some way behind their greatest strikers.
Perhaps that helps to explain why he has not been bestowed an equivalent status among all sections of the club’s fanbase. On paper his record from wide areas is very good, yet when he arrived at Arsenal it was not Pires who he was expected to replace but Henry.
Furthermore, Walcott’s struggle to live up to such a billing played out to a backdrop of Arsenal failing to uphold the standard set by Arsene Wenger’s teams in his first act as manager.
The England international arrived at the genesis of Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought and made his debut in Arsenal’s first campaign at Emirates Stadium. It was the Gunners’ first season without Pires, Cole and Bergkamp, and their final with Ljungberg and Henry — members of a team whose achievements have not been matched since.
There have been great players enjoying great seasons, of course. Robin van Persie, Alexis Sanchez, and Cesc Fabregas have all reached higher peaks with their individual performances in north London than Walcott.
Yet, statistically speaking, Walcott is not far below the trio either. His 34 goals and assists in the 2012-13 season has only been bettered by those three players and Henry across a single season since Wenger took charge in 1996, while none have won as many trophies, nor have they been as long-serving.
If the club’s first decade at Emirates Stadium has produced one name to enter the club’s hall of fame, there is an argument that it should be Theo Walcott.