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The FA Cup Fourth Round

Wrong to set Theo in Bale's shadow

TEAMtalk guest Michael Graham insists it is no crime to not be as good as Gareth Bale - and feels Theo Walcott deserves more credit.

Last Updated: 08/03/13 at 08:11 Post Comment

Theo Walcott: Fine player in his own right

Theo Walcott: Fine player in his own right

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No matter what Walcott does or achieves, it seems his career is always destined to be defined by a single short word -'but'.

'He has a great future, but a big move is too early for him'; 'he has been called up into Sven-Goran Eriksson's England World Cup squad, but he doesn't deserve it'; 'he wants to be a striker, but he isn't strong enough'; 'he is as quick as they come, but he has no final product'.

This season - and especially last week when Tottenham and Arsenal locked horns at White Hart Lane - has seen a new and almost cruel new line thrown at him - 'he is playing the best football of his career by far, but he isn't as good as Gareth Bale'.

I suppose it was always inevitable that Walcott and Bale would be measured against each other to some extent. They both came from the Southampton academy at the same time, both eye-catching speedsters and hailed as exciting players to watch, and both moved to big rival clubs in North London as teenagers.

Their careers have run parallel to each other, so you can understand the inclination to compare them every step of the way.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. They don't have to be perpetually shackled together and thrown before the baying mob for judgement. It doesn't really do either of them justice.

I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone prepared to argue that Walcott is the better player right now. Such an assertion would only serve to call the individual's sincerity or sanity into question. Like almost everyone else of late, he has been blown away by the Welshman.

But therein lays the double standard. Why singularly use Bale's brilliance as a stick with which to beat Walcott? It isn't as if the Tottenham man's exploits can be matched by any other British players of their generation, or many others for that matter. If not being quite as good as Bale has suddenly become worthy of derision, we may never feel excited about football ever again.

It seems you are almost not allowed to say anything positive about Arsenal these days, but the truth is that Walcott has blossomed into a fine player in his own right.

The days of him being a mere athlete in footballer's boots are a thing of the past. He is delivering quality and doing it consistently, from both general play and even set pieces, and he is doing it regardless of the position in which he plays.

It is a truth that isn't even obscured or lurking beneath the surface somewhere either. It's in plain sight for all to see. With a quarter of the season still to play he already has his best ever Premier League goals haul and has also been credited with more assists than in any other campaign, and he is doing it in what is widely believed to be the worst Arsenal team in recent memory.

Did anyone expect any more from him when he emerged as a precocious talent at St Mary's? Surely if someone told us then that he would mature into a staple of one of the top sides in the country and produce in the Premier League on a regular basis, we'd have all agreed that would reflect the fulfilment of his promise?

Whether or not Bale and Walcott just so happened to come through the same academy at the same time is irrelevant, as is how they compare now. The bottom line is that Theo has finally arrived as a genuine force in the Premier League - and it is about time the wider footballing world started acknowledging it.

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