Snubbed by England for Euro 2016 and linked with a summer move away after 10 years at Arsenal, Theo Walcott’s career appeared to be at a crossroads a couple of months ago.
But the 27-year-old has enjoyed a stunning start to the season and was unplayable for 45 minutes on Wednesday, scoring both goals in his side’s 2-0 defeat of FC Basel as Arsenal went joint top of Champions League Group A.
Debate has often raged about Walcott’s best position.
His repeated desire to play as a main striker has been undermined by a perceived lack of composure in front of goal — a charge that cost him his England place.
Against Basel he started on the right with a license to roam and was lethal.
He scored with a rare header the absent Olivier Giroud would have been proud of after six minutes and then coolly drilled home a precise right-foot shot via the post 20 minutes later.
Both goals came courtesy of Alexis Sanchez, the Chilean playmaker who was the fulcrum for Arsenal’s marauding attack in which Walcott was the star.
“I am working hard, enjoying my football,” Walcott, who made a brief appearance for England versus Slovakia this month, said.
“Things are going well but this will all be forgotten about really, it is all about the next day.”
His manager Arsene Wenger said Walcott’s desire to improve his game had helped him turn the corner — so much so that he was given a standing ovation by the often critical Arsenal fans when he was substituted in the second half.
“He assessed where he stands and then rectified what he had to add to his game. That’s down to him, 95 percent down to him,” Wenger said. “The best recommendation is his performances.
“If you take the best English players and you see him playing the way he did tonight, it’s difficult to ignore him.”
After defeat by Liverpool on the opening day of the season Arsenal are now unbeaten in eight games in all competitions and are vying with Paris St Germain to top their group.
With back-to-back matches against Ludogorets to come, he knows the Gunners have a great opportunity to try and take a stranglehold on top spot — vital to avoid drawing one of the favourites in the first knockout round.
“Not many teams would like to play us, that is for sure,” Walcott said. “We cannot get ahead of ourselves though, we have a lot to do and hopefully the past can change.”
Arsenal have lost at the last 16 stage for the past six seasons. “We have so much experience in the Champions League realise how important that top spot is,” Walcott said. (Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)