Forget about Peter Frampton. Theo Walcott might have been on the pitch for just 30 minutes, but the Arsenal forward could very well have been the man of the match in England’s exciting 3-2 win over Sweden in their Euro 2012 tilt on Friday. With Manchester City’s James Milner being pulled off in the 61st minute after another less-than-impressive outing, Walcott came on and turned the game around.
He had been on the pitch for just three minutes when he scored his first goal for England since banging in a hat trick in Croatia back in 2008. Reports said Walcott’s strike came from about 29 yards out, making it the longest goal of Euro 2012 so far. He drove it high and it seemed to fool Swedish goalkeeper Isaksson who was wrong footed and it sailed into the centre of the net.
Walcott seemed to be as surprised as anybody that he scored, but it just gives credence to the fact that you won’t score if you don’t shoot the ball. He wasn’t finished there though, as he set up Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck for the game winner in the 78th minute. Walcott burst down the right side of the pitch, went in between two defenders, and put in a foot-high cross for Welbeck who cheekily back heeled it into the net.
He then created an excellent chance for England and Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard in injury time, but Gerrard drilled the ball right into Isaksson’s chest. All in all it was a fine performance, and Walcott teased fans by showing them what he’s capable of. We shouldn’t get carried away though, since he went four years without scoring for his country after that wonderful performance in the World Cup qualifier in Croatia.
It’s obvious that Walcott has some decent footballing skills to go along with his excellent speed, but the simple question is: can he do it on a consistent basis? He’s still only 23 years old and the majority of athletes don’t reach their peak until they’re about 27 or 28. It’s understandable why other Premier League teams are interested in him if Arsenal isn’t and that’s a dilemma that manager Arsene Wenger has to deal with.
He needs to decide if Walcott should be kept or sold and, if so, at what price, or if they should sell him to the highest bidder. However, Wenger runs the risk of seeing Walcott develop into a star in the league if he gets regular playing time game in and game out. When he’s healthy, Walcott seems to be contributing to the Gunners attack, depending on which statistics you believe; he scored 11 goals and created 13 others in 46 matches this year.
After the win against Sweden, Walcott said the key to success in major tournaments is to be ready whenever you’re needed. He said you can’t sulk if you start on the bench and have to train as hard as possible and wait until it’s your turn to play. He added that it’s a team effort and that includes all of the players on the bench, not just the starters. The winger feels England has the attacking power to do well and Wayne Rooney hasn’t even made an appearance yet.
He admitted that he was disappointed by not playing in the first game against France, but getting the result was the important thing. He said his 30-minute cameo appearance against Sweden was one of his best games and he thought his shot took a deflection on the way into the net. But after watching the goal on a replay he realized it went straight in. "I surprised myself," he said. "During warm-up I put three goals in the top corner past Jack Butland and he wasn't too happy about it. I didn't know I had that sort of Ronaldo dip in me. I should try it more often.”
He said it’s been far too long between goals and he’s thankful it came at a crucial moment in the match because the three points were massive. He’s smart enough to realize there’s still a lot of work to be done though, if England is to advance into the second round of Euro 2012 even though they just need a draw against Ukraine.
"That's tricky. It's against the hosts, which is always going to be a tough game," Walcott stated. "We'll go out there and try to win. Everyone was saying the defence against France was brilliant but the attack wasn't great, and people would say the defence wasn't great today, but I thought we were a bit unlucky."