The Fastest Wing In World Football
On Sunday evening, Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin started on the right wing for Arsenal against Hull City in the third round of the FA Cup. That may well be the Fastest Wing in World Football.
Take Theo and Bellerin, sprinkle on some of Welbeck’s blistering pace, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s bursts, Sanchez’ quickness on the ball, Santi’s dancing feet and dazzling distribution, Gibbs sprinting from left back, Coquelin at DM and Koscielny at centerback and before you know it, you’ve got some pretty serious speed all over the park. I look forward to seeing variations on that theme over the next couple of seasons.
Seeing Theo start for Arsenal was something the faithful have anticipated for almost exactly 12 months. It’s incredible, really: one year lost out of Theo’s peak 4 or 5 years – gone at the snap of a ligament. It is possible that, of his remaining two and a half years at the club, he just spent 12 months of them in convalescence. Truly, at The Arsenal, those whom the Gods love die young.
Theo has gone from being a player no Gooner could agree on to being one of the few players every Gooner can agree on. Quite remarkable, really. I used to spend my time defending him after games, usually pointing out that even in Bales’ best season, Theo still had a better goals + assists contribution per minute. This had been true in every season since the two of them arrived in the PL. Now, there’s no one left to argue with, thank God. We are all converts. And absence has made the heart grow fonder.
There are few sights more thrilling than watching raw speed in action: a Formula 1 car overtaking down the straight; a horse gunning past the field in the closing furlong of the Derby; an Olympic sprinter after a slow start catching and passing the field. Or in football…Theo Walcott.
Theo has been a big loss for our team, and as if being confined to the training grounds hasn’t been torture enough for the man, he has had insult added to his injury with the breaking of his land-speed record by the young upstart, Hector Bellerin. Although this would seem a minor thing, it isn’t. Not for Theo or Hector. And apparently, not for the media, even though they had no clue who Hector Bellerin was before it. Media outlet after media outlet reminds Theo of it, then and now, to the point where he has picked up the gauntlet, wiped his arse with it, and sworn revenge.
Oh, the ignominy of it, the cowardice: Happening at a time when Theo was unable to respond, strapped down to a rehab table while the muscles of his sprinter’s thighs twitch in anger and fury.
He has promised to come back faster and stronger and, specifically, to consign Bellerin to the rank of second fastest player at the club.
And so, it should have come as no surprise when things began to unravel on the right wing against Hull, early in the 2nd half of the FA Cup tie: a seemingly innocuous pass by Coquelin which placed the ball 40 meters – almost exactly equidistant – ahead of both Theo and Bellerin had both players sprinting forward. But Theo got there first as it was just a tad closer to his path.
Then Theo jogged back to cover his defensive duties, with Bellerin making a point to jog back faster. Theo broke from a jog into a canter. Bellerin matched his canter and raised him a gallop. Theo was sure he saw a small grin growing in the corner of Bellerin’s mouth.
A minute later, another ball is pumped up the right wing for Theo and Bellerin to chase. Theo, again a tad closer, gets there first and attacks, only to find Bellerin arriving on his shoulder, throwing him a look reminiscent of “the look” Armstrong gave Jan Ulrich on the slopes of the L’Alpe-d’Huez, 2001, and then passing him. As they jogged back Theo offers “The ball slowed me down slightly. I’m not quite as fast when I have to control the ball.” Bellerin shrugs as if to say he has no idea what Theo is on about. But he most certainly does.
In the next play, both players track back after Hull’s Figueroa like two greyhounds running down a hare. In fact, scrap that analogy, Figueroa was like…like a fighter pilot staring at his HUD display having just spotted two Surface-To-Air missiles shooting right up his arse, a second before they blow it all over the skies.
Bould turns to Wenger and says, “I warned you this would happen, boss. You need to tell your boy to settle down and focus on his job.” Wenger shoots back at Bould: “I told YOU this would happen, and you need to tell your boy to hold back and defend.”
Behind them on the pitch, Theo and Bellerin have spun around and, correctly anticipating an upfield diagonal ball to their wing, are at full pelt, neck-and-neck, hell-for-leather up the touchline, sprinting towards the ball and at the last moment, ignoring it, hurdling it, as they put in a final burst all the way to the by-line, dipping as they break an imaginary tape, seemingly a photo-finish with no photo. Later petitions to review the goal-line technology video by both players to give a winner would prove futile.
I went to a football match the other night and a track & field meeting broke out.