THEO WALCOTT. You either love him or hate him. Some say he doesn't have a football brain, others say he has no end product. Personally I think he is one of the most under-rated players in the Premier League.
The problems seem to stem from the fact that when he joined Arsenal as a 16 year old, back in January 2006, many expected him to become the new Theirry Henry. But Arsene Wenger did not want to rush him. In fact he did not play for the first team for the remainder of that season.
Despite this, however, Sven Goran Eriksson selected him for the England squad for that summer's World Cup in Germany. While there is no doubt it was a great experience for the young man, many neutral observers believed he should not have gone. Already the guns were out for him.
Walcott made his Arsenal debut as a substitute in the clubs first ever Premier League match in the new Emirates Stadium on the opening day of the 2006-07 season. Losing 1-0 to Aston Villa, Theo made an instant impression with his searing pace and played a major role in Gilberto Silva's late equaliser.
But Wenger was keen to bring him on slowly. He started just 13 games in all competitions that season, but played a big part in the club's run to the Carling Cup final, where they faced Chelsea. Despite struggling with a shoulder injury, Walcott scored his first Arsenal goal at the Millennium Stadium, although Chelsea were to come back and win 2-1.
Despite being bought as a striker initially, Wenger preferred to play him in a right-sided role where he felt his pace would be more effective. But that seems to be where the criticism has come from. It took Walcott time to adjust to the new position, and while his pace enabled him to get into some very good positions, he all-too-often made the wrong choices with his final delivery.
It was around this time that Alan Hansen said those famous words on Match Of The Day. Walcott had no football brain. That was it. It stuck. Whenever Theo's name was mentioned in any football conversation, that phrase would always be mentioned. Even Arsenal fans, it seemed, where jumping on the bandwagon.
I admit, he was frustrating at times. Injuries were not helping his cause, and he was unable to hold down a regular place in the side. He did not score his first Premier League goals until March 2008, going on to score a brace at Birmingham in the now infamous Eduardo match. But his second goal that day, a marvellous solo effort, showed he not only had a football brain but could finish too.
He ended the 2007-08 season with 7 goals in just 20 starts, but injuries hampered his progress over the next two years. He was in the headlines again at the start of the 2008-09 season with a hat-trick for England in a World Cup qualifier in Croatia, but the critics were soon on his back again. Not even 21, yet it appeared young Theo was not fulfilling his early potential.
The 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons were frustrating for Walcott. Injuries restricted him to just 42 starts and he struggled to find consistency in his game. At times he looked unplayable. At others like a kid out of his depth. Many Arsenal fans had long since lost patience with him. But not me.
I could not understand Wenger's reluctance to play him through the middle, in a central striker's role. With Robin van Persie constantly injured, and Emmanuel Adebayor off to Manchester City, I felt the time was right to give Theo a run up front. He had shown a calmness in front of goal and I could see a 25-30 goal-a-season striker in him. But Wenger insisted on playing him wide.
He slowly began to adapt to that role, however, and by 2010 he had matured into the player I always knew he could be. Unfortunately the critics refused to see it. He actually had a very good 2010-11 season, scoring 13 goals in just 25 starts, and creating numerous others, but still people were on his back.
I remember an incident outside the ground at Blackpool in April 2011 when it was announced over the PA that Theo would be on the bench. Many fans around me were pleased, saying that was where he deserved to be. I was shocked by their reaction. He had scored a hat-trick against them in the reverse fixture at The Emirates in August and their defence could clearly not cope with his pace.
Then, with us about to throw away a 2-0 lead, Walcott emerged from the bench to create the killer third goal for van Persie. That is what he can do and that is why he should be starting. But it seemed I was a lone voice.
Last season Theo reached new heights. He finally established himself as a regular in the side, the injuries finally over, and he worked in tandem with van Persie. In fact Theo assisted in nearly a third of Robin's goals last season, a fact recognised on numerous occasions by the Dutchman himself. No end product?? No football brain?? No chance.
But it seemed most of his critics were closer to home. Theo had a poor first half in the game against Tottenham at The Emirates in February and was booed by a section of his own fans at half time. But Wenger stuck with him and it paid off in spectacular fashion as he scored twice in the second half to seal a famous 5-2 victory.
That may well be looked on as the turning point in his career. He ended the season in good form until a hamstring injury saw him miss three matches. But his importance to the team was evident when he was brought on a half time in the final match at WBA, even though he was not 100% fit, and helped us to the 3-2 win we needed to qualify for the Champions League.
He then became England's secret weapon in the Euros this summer. His performance from the bench against Sweden turned the game and the whole Country was calling for him to start the subsequent matches. He didn't and we went out.
So this could now be a crucial season in Walcott's career. Into the final year of his contract at Arsenal, he is stalling over a new deal. Perhaps he feels he is ready for a new challenge. Perhaps he feels he is never going to get the chance to play up front under Wenger. Perhaps he feels the club lack ambition after the recent sales of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and now his mate van Persie.
They say you only truly appreciate something when it's gone, well maybe that is only way the Arsenal fans will fully appreciate just what a fine player Theo Walcott is.
Thankfully it appears he is now staying with us, until January at least. Hopefully he will now get the chance to play in his proper position and save us a fortune in the transfer market by replacing the goals of van Persie.
I know he can do it. I see 25 goals in him this season if he is played up front. Personally I would play him alongside Oliver Giroud, feeding off the big man. With Lukas Podolski on the left, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and Santi Cazorla playing just behind, we will certainly create the chances for him.
So I urge the fans to get off his back. You haven't seen the best of him yet. He has been a striker playing wide. Perhaps now we will get to see the real Theo Walcott. Perhaps you will realise you liked Marmite all along.