By Noah TanFollow @@Noah_Tan
A quick look at the latest FIFA/FIFPro World XI team selection, decided by the votes of over 50,000 FIFPro professional players, tells you everything one needs to know about the type of players who thrive in the modern game.
Skilful, technically proficient, and most importantly, intelligent. These are just some of the qualities (amongst many others) each of the players in the World XI selection possesses in abundance, and it is what makes them a joy to watch but a nightmare to play against.
Now, can anyone honestly say that Walcott has these qualities in his armoury?
Of course, statistically speaking, he is one of the most effective players in the Premier League, having scored eight and assisting 7 in 15 games this season.
But statistics only tell half the story, if that.
Yes, there is no doubt the 23-year-old's finishing has improved since last season and he is now better at dealing with the physical aspect of the game.
And on the surface, Walcott's performance in Arsenal's recent 7-3 win over Newcastle United seemed to give credence to manager Arsene Wenger's assertion that he had the ability to lead the line up front. The England international scored a hat-trick, his first in the Premier League, and got himself an assist (sending a delightful cross from the right which Olivier Giroud duly converted) to earn himself the man-of-the-match award in that game.
Yet, a closer look at the game, and Walcott's goals, shows that the speedy striker was aided by a combination of poor Newcastle defending as well as a strong dose of luck.
Walcott's first goal was finished with aplomb no doubt, but it was only possible because the Magpies foolishly decided to play a high line and made a hash of their offside trap. Walcott's second was also only possible because of some slack defending; no Newcastle player seemed intent on closing Walcott down when he received possession in the box as he took an age to turn on the ball before firing it into the back of the net.
And the goal which completed Walcott's hat-trick may have drawn the plaudits for the "dribble" and finish, but it totally ignores the fact that a huge slice of luck was involved in the goal. He was fouled in the box following an attempt to dribble past three Newcastle defenders, the ball deflected through a crowd of legs before falling kindly in front of the former Southampton player, who did well to get up quickly and made no mistake in a one-on-one situation with Tim Krul.
Sure, Walcott must be given due credit for making the most of the opportunities presented to him against Newcastle, but Alan Pardew's men are an underachieving team struggling with injuries and are far from being the force they were last season.
However, it is a completely different story once Walcott comes up against organised defences.
Walcott's performances in Arsenal's next four matches perfectly and for Arsenal fans, painfully, illustrated the inadequacies in his game.
Against Southampton (1-1 draw), Walcott was too easily hustled out of possession and seemed devoid of any ideas about how to break the disciplined backline as the Saints' deep lying defence meant that he was unable to use his pace to run in behind them.
While Walcott's second-rate display against Southampton can be explained (but not excused) by the Gunners' generally poor overall performance, there is no reason why the 2006 winner of the BBC Young Sports Personality of Year should struggle against Swansea (2-2 draw) in the third round of the FA Cup.
The Swans were under cosh for majority of the second half, conceding possession cheaply and making several schoolboy errors, but yet Walcott could not find a way to impose himself against Michael Laudrup's men, who like the Saints, were playing with a very deep backline.
And Walcott turned in a virtually anonymous performance when the Gunners took on Manchester City (2-0 loss) in their next game, with statistics showing that French striker Olivier Giroud, on as a 57th minute substitute, had 21 touches of the ball, whereas Walcott, who played the entire match, only touched the ball 18 times.
After three underwhelming performances, Walcott briefly sparked to life against the Swans (1-0 win) in the third round replay of the FA Cup, but his profligacy in front of goal meant that the Gunners could not relax till Jack Wilshere scored a superb winner in the 86th minute.
What is really troubling is that Walcott's underwhelming performances against these teams are not anomalies either. Too often has Walcott struggled when playing against defences which sit deep and afford precious little space behind them.
Unfortunately, the stark reality is that unlike his supposed predecessor Thierry Henry, Walcott is too predictable and simply lacks the technical ability or intelligence to create chances in tight situations. Crucially, Walcott's movement off-the-ball leaves a lot to be desired and opposition defences can easily nullify his threat by sticking close to him and forcing him to the byline.
For a player who has played at the top level for nearly six years now, Walcott's decision making in the final third, as well as his tactical awareness is surprisingly poor, and his team-mates often have to double up to cover for him when he plays.
Granted, it is perhaps unfair to compare Walcott with a specially gifted player like Henry who is probably the best striker the Premier League has ever seen.
A more reasonable comparison to make would be with Manchester United's Javier Hernandez, who possesses qualities similar to Walcott.
Chicharito is a year older than Walcott but having joined United in 2010, has much less experience in the Premier League than the Arsenal forward. However, the Mexican international has consistently produced for the Red Devils on the big stage and can be counted on to find the back of the net against any type of opposition.
While Walcott may have much more pace in his arsenal (pardon the pun) as compared to Chicharito, the United striker is a much more intelligent player, showing great anticipation and reading the game very well to appear in the right place at the right time to score, making it very hard for teams to defend against him.
On the other hand, Walcott's one-dimensional style of playing (i.e. utilising his pace to beat defences) can be easily countered (by sitting deep), and based on recent games, opposing teams have already learnt how to do so without compromising on the other aspects of their tactics.
Which begs the question, should Arsenal do all they can to keep Walcott?
Regrettably, a combination of undeserved media hype and Arsenal's poor record in the transfer market over the past few years have made it hard for the club to part ways with Walcott, even if they want to.
Due to the high-profile departures of first-team players like Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Robin Van Persie in the past few seasons, the sale of a player the media has hyped up and identified as "key" to Arsenal would only lend credence to the growing perception that the Gunners are a "selling" club.
Already accused by many of lacking in ambition, the call for the heads of Wenger and the Arsenal board will grow even more vociferous if Walcott leaves. Even more crucially, by being seen as a "selling" club, the Gunners will find it hard to attract top quality players, and the likes of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere may find themselves tempted to leave the club for one with "bigger" ambitions.
However, by caving in to Walcott's demands (a substantial wage increase and an assurance that he will play up front as a striker) in order to keep him, Arsenal are setting a dangerous precedent for the future.
No matter how talented a player is, no one should be above the club, and of all, Walcott is hardly the player Arsenal should be breaking their wage structure for. By allowing him to hold them to ransom, Arsenal may have opened Pandora's Box.
Perhaps the hole Arsenal have dug for themselves, with their questionable transfer dealings in the past few years and consequent lack of honours, has grown too big for them to afford losing Walcott.
Perhaps Walcott has yet to hit his full potential, and Wenger can see enough in the striker to believe that he will blossom into a world class player.
Whatever the reason, Arsenal will be stuck with Walcott leading the line for the next few years.
It is a huge gamble which the Gunners have decided to take.
I'm not sure it will pay off.