Former Arsenal winger Theo Walcott has named Robin van Persie as the best player he has ever played with, according to Talksport.
The 31-year-old signed for Arsenal from Southampton in a £5 million deal in January 2006 and spent 12 years at the club. He scored 108 goals and provided 78 assists in 398 games across all competitions for the Gunners.
Walcott was heralded as the next big thing in English football when he signed for the North London club and while he has had a memorable career, he never really reached the level many believed he would. He struggled to figure out what his best position was and went through a period where it was unclear whether he was most suited to playing down the middle or on the wing.
He made news when he was included in former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson’s World Cup squad in 2006. He didn’t play a single minute of the tournament but it was a significant experience for the player.
Regarding the decision to sign for Arsenal, he said:
“Chelsea came in, so did Liverpool and Arsenal. It was one thing that my idol was there – Thierry Henry. Plus Arsene Wenger gave so many opportunities to young players.”
“I just thought I couldn’t say no to them and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
“As soon as I walked in, the first person I saw was Henry. I thought, ‘Bloody hell!’ I looked so starstruck. Then Robert Pires comes in, then Freddie Ljungberg, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole. I was like a kid with his autograph book.”
“I’ve never changed from that little kid up to now.”
On taking the number 14 shirt at Arsenal after the departure of club legend and all-time leading goalscorer Thierry Henry, he said:
“I originally wanted number 8 but it was the season they signed Samir Nasri, so they told me I couldn’t have it.”
“So I just said I’ll take number 14. I’m not superstitious and I didn’t really think of the relevance. Then suddenly I thought, ‘S***, I’ve taken Thierry’s number’.”
“I got a shirt signed from Henry and it said, ‘Do number 14, from number 14’.”
“He signed it off, and if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.”
On the best player he ever played with, Walcott said:
“The best team I’ve played in was when Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie were on song with each other and me in there as well.”
“I remember one season I set up around 14 of Van Persie’s 30-odd goals. For me, them two in a team, with me as well, was one of the best. That’s including England.”
“My greatest teammate would have to be Van Persie. For me, he was the best finisher I’ve ever seen, he was better than Thierry Henry, he made it look so easy.”
“If you gave it to him, he would score for you. He was a dream to play with, I don’t think there will be a player like him ever again.”
Arsenal played Barcelona in the Champions League on numerous occasions during Walcott’s time at the club. Lionel Messi asked for his shirt when they faced off. On playing against Messi, he said:
“When he had the ball and he wanted to face up with me, he would turn and go the other way. I thought, ‘OK, Messi doesn’t want to try and run past me, that’s a good sign’.”
“We played Barcelona quite a lot and Messi asked for my shirt. I thought, ‘Wow, the greatest player in the world is asking for my shirt!’ I’ve got no words for that.”
During his time in North London, Walcott won just two FA Cups and this is one of his regrets. On a lack of trophies during his career at Arsenal, he said:
“We were too nice. Then we won a few FA Cups and got in the Champions League a lot. At times, that felt like it was good enough for Arsenal. It felt like a bit of a medal. As players we wanted to win things, but the club were happy to finish fourth.”
“When Leicester won the league and we were the only team to beat them twice, that was the year we should’ve done something. That was the year Arsenal should’ve won it.”
Walcott suffered a crippling shoulder injury for much of 2008 which caused him to struggle on the pitch. On the shoulder injury, he said:
“That was so horrible. I had to play a whole season with my left shoulder popping in and out. A little bit like Lethal Weapon with Mel Gibson.”
“Every game I would go hiding for a bit and nobody knew about it, it really hindered me.”
“I dealt with it, played through pain, but I wouldn’t have changed anything.”
On the knee injury that he suffered during Arsenal’s 2-0 win over North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur which kept him out of action for 11 months, he said:
“The knee injury was the worst because I didn’t know I did it at the time, that’s why I did the 2-0 sign to the Tottenham fans.”
“I got about £16.32 on my stretcher from all the coins they lobbed at me. That’s why I did it. I could’ve gone and bought some sweets, it was that much.”
“All the tests were fine, I had a sharp pain for 20 seconds and then it was fine. I’ll never forget the phone call from the doctor. He asked me if I was sitting down. I went so white and burst into tears.”
“I looked back at that and thought it was a blessing, because my son was born and I never missed it. Things happen for a reason – and that was my reason. I wouldn’t change it.”
“Now that I’ve got kids, I look at football differently. They’re on my boots and I’m playing for them.”
“Now they’re watching me, it’s like a film which has come full circle. I won’t force it on them, but I do practice with them a lot, especially with Finley. He’s got a good kick.”
Walcott left Arsenal in January 2018 and signed for Everton. After spending 18 months on Merseyside, he returned to Southampton in the summer of 2020.
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