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Written by Mean Lean on Tuesday, 05 February 2013 12:38

A jolly good afternoon to you,

I am a little confused by the weather today, the sunshine is out and it looks like a lovely bright day, yet the cold feels as intense as the nerves when Arsenal defend a corner in stoppage time whilst holding a one goal lead.

Interesting talk of possible widespread match fixing in Europe which to my mind is absolutely no surprise whatsoever. Where there is vast amounts of money involved you are always going to find greed, it is the way of the world and football is not be immune. It is also a little naive in my opinion to think that the English game is safe from the dark side of the game. I expect there is much more to be unravelled in our league in the future.

There has been a lot of focus on Theo Walcott and his England career so while it is pretty quiet, I want to focus on him today, If you follow me on twitter and read my ramblings last night then you would have heard parts of it already but here goes.

I re-watched the Arsenal vs Stoke City game last night, well most of it and it struck me how much Theo Walcott has matured as a player. How he is no longer the error ridden, predictable kid that would always try and beat his full back to their left and all they had to do was Andre Santos style stick out a leg and come away with the ball. He used to be the kid who would vanish from games, stuck on the touchline in home games where the opposition sat deep and was pretty much nullified. I am sure he went through a bad run where he didn't score at home matches, mainly because the space he needed was never available to him and his job in the team was almost purely to stretch the pitch out for his team mates.

The young Theo Walcott was a good finisher who was probably the fastest player I'd ever seen on a football pitch, so he had tools that were already better than others in world football, not many can claim that at 16-17 years of age. He was never the most gifted in terms of technique, never had feet quick enough to dribble past players in tight spaces, he more than likely started the game too late to obtain those qualities but the hope has been to hone in on the qualities he does possess, to be consistent in the fundamentals of the game and right now he is doing just that. Theo Walcott is now 23 years of age and it brings me back to a Wenger quote back in 2010.

Wenger said:

"He [Nasri] has become more efficient and is maturing but he is only 23 years old and at that age you develop," said the manager.

"When Thierry Henry came here he was 23 already and still developed a lot so that means there is a lot more to come from Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and all these players who [were] born in 1987.

"They are not players who are at the end of their improvement."

Football fans have a terrible habit of making final judgements on young players as if the performance you see from a 19 year old is the final product, rarely is that the case. Theo Walcott is currently the age that Arsene Wenger was talking about in that 2010 quote. Theo Walcott is the same age that Thierry Henry was when he came to Arsenal, when Thierry was nowhere near the player he reached at his peak. Think of that for a moment, look at the massive leap Thierry made and imagine if Theo made even half that amount of progress from now until 27 years of age. He is already producing some of the best goals and assists stats in the league. While I don't expect Theo Walcott to be amongst the most skilful players in our league, I do expect him to be ridiculously effective.

While we as football fans can be forgiven for jumping the gun on youngsters, former players and current pundits should really know better seeing as they have all been through the development cycle. People like Chris Waddle, Alan Hansen and Stewart Robson have all stuck the knife into the Arsenal man, writing off a player who had a stop start young career due to shoulder injuries. Theo is on a nice upwards curve, this season is no fluke as he more than showed his quality last season assisting van Persie with a large share of his goals and I don't expect him to slow down anytime soon so signing him up was so important for us.

I know a similar progression will happen with Aaron Ramsey and I hope Theo's obvious improvement will change a section of Gooner thoughts when it comes to the Welshman. Ramsey who only a couple of months back turned 22, is on the way to fulfilling his potential, we have already seen a maturity in his performance playing in Mikel Arteta's position. He received a big cheer from the Arsenal fans when coming off the bench against Stoke City so if we want him to make the same progress as Theo and even Song before him then that type of support would benefit all at Arsenal. Where Walcott was running into defenders, Aaron has held onto the ball for too long, where Walcott would cross to nobody, Ramsey is shooting high and wide. Ramsey has the tools, he just needs the same development. If we give him a chance, he will get there.

It is why I now look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who is currently out of form and rub my hands with glee. He has more tools than Theo had at 19, has confidence in himself and I am sure he will become one of the top players in the league when he reaches 23-24. You look further back at the youth team and the possibilities are endless. Players like Serge Gnabry, Thomas Eisfeld and Hector Bellerin to name but a few have plenty of ability and have a long road of progression ahead of them. This is not to say that (like Yaz) the only way is up. Players can go backwards and not reach their potential. Jay Emmanuel Thomas is a good example of that but with the right attitude a handful will make the jump.

When I look at Chamberlain 19, Ramsey 22, Wilshere 21 and Walcott 23 and the fact that they have all signed long term deals then I cannot help but remain optimistic about the direction of this particular squad. This is not to mention Szczesny, Jenkinson and Gibbs who are all long termers coming to 'that' age. Sagna aside, we no longer have players itching to jump ship and as good as Sagna is, he is almost certainly not going to improve over what we have seen from him since he signed.

Not everyone will share that view of the current squad and I understand that considering we have sold our better players for the last few years but the difference is that all those that have left have wanted to leave, I believe they would all still be here had they wanted to stay. The core we have at present want to be here and assuming we supplement them with more like Podolski, Cazorla, Monreal etc then we can get back to where we were.

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