By Chris Harris
Theo Walcott is a more efficient team player these days, according to Arsène Wenger.
The England international joined Arsenal as a raw teenager in January 2006 and, despite his surprise inclusion in England's World Cup squad that year, he was eased more slowly into the senior set-up at club level.
Walcott's pace has always been his most potent weapon but, after five years of development, Wenger has spotted an increasing maturity in the 21-year-old's play - to the benefit of his team-mates.
"Yes, I think he has made progress as a team player," said the manager. "He works very hard, Theo, because he’s naturally a guy who thinks ahead. And he works harder for the team. He is making progress, I think, this season.
"You feel there is a real desire from him to play with the others, and that was perhaps his weak point before. I think at the moment he’s working very hard on that.
"I saw the England game [against Montenegro] and I thought he has worked hard for the team, but the whole team suffered. I’ve not seen the first 20 minutes but from 20 to 90, he was not the only one who suffered in this game, because Montenegro dominated the game."
Walcott's meteoric rise as a 16-year-old put him in the spotlight long before many players get a first-team chance and his hat-trick in Croatia at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign in 2008 raised expectations even higher.
Wenger agrees but he believes that Walcott is often involved in the decisive moments for club and country.
"I think he can make a decisive impact in every single game," he said. "Even in that game, you can say ‘OK he had not a great game’, maybe, but he was efficient. And that’s the problem.
"When you look at Theo, he’s a player who you think sometimes ‘he could have contributed more then’, but then you think 'who scored the goal?' Him. Or 'who made the pass?' It’s him. He’s a player who is efficient."Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source