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Transfer Rater: Chris Smalling to Arsenal

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Arsenal need to reconsider Theo Walcott's future with the club

Back in August last year, Theo Walcott could have been forgiven for feeling optimistic about the 2015-16 campaign. Buoyed by a new strong end to the previous season and a new deal, he would have hoped to commemorate his 10th year at Arsenal with a strong showing. However, as the season draws to a close, Walcott finds himself out of both favour and form. Now, he has been linked with a move across London to West Ham. The way things are going for Walcott right now, it would be no great surprise to see Arsenal cash in.

It's been quite a dramatic fall from grace. Walcott finished the 2014-15 season on a high, returning from injury to score a hat trick in the final Premier League fixture against West Brom. That was enough to earn him a starting berth in the FA Cup Final, when he opened the scoring with an excellent left-footed volley.

Both those appearances came in a relatively new role as a centre-forward. Since bursting on to scene in his mid-teens, Walcott had been clear about his desire to play through the middle. Now, at last, Arsene Wenger seemed prepared to grant his request.

At the start of this season, Walcott quickly edged ahead of Olivier Giroud as Wenger's preferred starting striker. With the former Southampton man as their spearhead, Arsenal developed a new attacking style based on speed and mobility. That evolutionary step was never more apparent than in the 3-0 win over Manchester United back in October.

Arsenal forward Theo Walcott
Theo Walcott has failed to start a game for Arsenal since February.

Although Walcott did not score that day, he was electrifying. The Arsenal fans saw a different side to his game, as he tore around the field hounding the opposition and causing mayhem in a disorientated United back line. After the match, Wenger said that this was "certainly" Walcott's best-ever performance as a central striker. He continued:

"I must say Walcott had a hugely committed performance today in a hugely convincing way. He didn't score but I like to praise the strikers when they don't score and contribute and give assists ... He did really fight today and showed he can fight, commit and protect the ball as well. He is gaining some aspects of his game as a centre-forward and they are improving."

However, things did not continue in that vein. Walcott, 26, was perhaps too late in his development to acclimatise to a specialist position. Over time, Wenger appeared to lose faith in the idea of Walcott as a centre-forward, and, to be frank, it looked as if the player did too. As time went by, his performances became lethargic and detached. The confidence was gradually drained from him.

Walcott last started in that role in the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford at the end of February. It appears that was the day Wenger's patience effectively ran out. He has not started in the Premier League since. The exasperation is presumably mutual, as Walcott's lack of first-team football could well rule him out of Roy Hodgson's Euro 2016 squad.

Walcott's lack of game time at Arsenal could hurt his chances with England.

The player will be eager to revive his international ambitions and make the most of what ought to be the prime years of his career. Things have gone a little stale for him in north London, and he might well benefit from a fresh start.

West Ham could fit the bill. The club are embarking on a new era with a new stadium and a significant increase in revenue. They need a marquee star to light up the Olympic Stadium, and Walcott's Olympic speed could make him ideal. The move would allow Walcott to remain in London, and could come with a greater likelihood of regular football.

For Arsenal's part, they'd surely be glad of the significant fee Walcott's contract would guarantee them. While his pace makes him a unique threat, Wenger would probably relish the opportunity to sign a more multi-faceted forward to complement Giroud and company. After a decade at the Emirates Stadium, Walcott's departure may now be the best thing for all parties.

James McNicholas is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gunnerblog.

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