Theo Walcott has revealed that the quality of players and Arsene Wenger swayed his decision to join Arsenal from Southampton back in 2006.
Walcott, 31, had been with Saints since the age of 11. After shining in the youth teams, he was fast-tracked to the big time. He became the youngster-ever player to represent the first team and youngest goalscorer.
It was no surprise when the big boys came calling, and it seemed inevitable that he would leave St Mary’s. The Londoner made just 21 Championship appearances for Southampton before moving to Arsenal in January 2006.
He went on to make 397 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions, scoring 108 goals. Other clubs were keen at the time but Walcott has always been convinced he made the right choice.
“Chelsea came in, so did Liverpool and Arsenal,” he told talkSPORT. “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.”
And the man with 47 England caps to his name admitted that his first experiences were a bit overawing.
“As soon as I walked in, the first person I saw was Henry,” he added. “I thought, ‘Bloody hell!’ I looked so star-struck. 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.”
Gunners ‘too nice’ to win
Walcott left the Emirates to join Everton in 2018. He has not enjoyed the same return on Merseyside, with just 10 goals from 77 Premier League outings.
Carlo Ancelotti made the decision to let him return to Southampton on loan for 2020-2021. The pacey forward is enjoying playing in a successful side under Ralph Hasenhuttl.
He does have silverware from his time with Arsenal but a failure to win the big one clearly rankles.
“We were too nice. Then we won a few FA Cups and got in the Champions League a lot,” he added. “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.”
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