London - Out of favour with Arsenal and exiled by England,
Theo Walcott reached a crossroads at the end of last season and his emphatic
response looks to have saved a career in danger of imploding.
Walcott started only one of Arsenal's final 14 matches last
term and lost his place in Roy Hodgson's England squad at the end of a
miserable campaign that appeared to shatter the winger's dreams of ever
cementing himself as a key figure for club or country.
Now, just months later, ahead of Wednesday's Champions
League group fixture against Swiss side Basel, he has reestablished himself as
one of Arsenal's main men thanks to a desperate close-season bid for
At 27, Walcott should have been in his prime, but somehow it
seemed appropriate that a player with electric pace but a frustrating habit of
failing to deliver the telling cross or clinical finish, now found himself
firmly on the periphery after a career that once promised to make him a global
Faced with the possibility of being sold by Arsenal and
forgotten by England, Walcott decided on a summit meeting that laid the
foundations for his recent renaissance.
He sat down with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger and his
lieutenant Steve Bould to work out how to get back on track and the advice he
received was simple and to the point -- get tougher physically and mentally.
Walcott took the talk to heart and worked with a personal
trainer throughout the close-season in a bid to significantly improve his
fitness and strength, even working on many of his days off to stay ahead of
Those gruelling sessions through the dog days of summer,
when he could have been sunning himself in Miami, Dubai or any other
millionaires' playground frequented by his peers, underlined to both Walcott
and Wenger that his commitment to excellence remained strong.
Also read: Welbeck out for 9 months with knee injury, to miss Euro 2016
- Fine-tuned body -
The transformative effect on Walcott's psyche was clear to
see as soon as Arsenal's players returned for pre-season training.
He was once again the vibrant presence that burst onto the
Premier League stage after joining Arsenal from Southampton as a teenager.
Out-shining many of his team-mates thanks to his fine-tuned
body and renewed desire to prove himself, Walcott was back in Wenger's good
books and back in the team for the season-opener against Liverpool.
Walcott hasn't looked back since, starting all six Premier
League matches and playing the full 90 minutes four times after frequently
being substituted due to his slumping fitness levels in the past.
Crucially, Walcott finally seems to have come to terms with
Wenger's preference to play him as a right winger rather than a striker.
For years, Walcott pined for a central role in Wenger's
attack, but whenever he played there both Arsenal and the wannabe forward
The difference in Walcott this season was never clearer than
in Saturday's Premier League clash against Chelsea.
In a fixture that had developed into a psychological
nightmare for Arsenal after years of losing to their London rivals, Walcott led
the charge as Wenger's side won 3-0.
Walcott proved a constant menace for the Chelsea defence and
swept home the second goal before earning cheers for a rare tackle in defence
to deny Eden Hazard.
It was a performance that confirmed Walcott's return to
prominence and prompted Wenger to pay tribute to the winger's resurgence.
"I always felt there is character and intelligence in
this boy," Wenger said.
"What was a big blow for him was not to go to the
Euros. He is a guy with a good assessment of his performances and qualities.
"He is 27, a very important age. I said many times at
the start of the season that we would see a different Theo Walcott. I could see
he made a decision and stuck to it."For
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