It was widely viewed as the low point of Arsenal’s season. An embarrassing 3-0 walloping in front of TV cameras at Crystal Palace in April which sparked demands for explanations from furious fans
Step forward Theo Walcott. With refreshing honesty, the captain for the night pulled no punches. Walcott declaring Palace had ‘wanted it more’ and the insipid performance ‘wasn’t us’.
Manager Arsene Wenger labelled the comments unacceptable and Walcott would go on to start just one more match in a revival which saw the Gunners win nine of their last 10 matches and lift the FA Cup.
But there are no regrets from the 28-year-old.
‘I was the captain for the day – no-one else was going to come out and I felt like I had to say something,’ Walcott reflected on Sunday. ‘It’s out there and it doesn’t really matter. The team went on to do considerably quite well after all those games. There was a reaction and that’s what we wanted.’
‘I’m an honest guy. I’ve been around the game a long time and I say what’s on my mind. Especially last year, even more so and I said what’s on my mind. I’m very honest, that’s the way I am.’
While the resulting upsurge in form was welcome for the team it was difficult for Walcott, who had scored 19 goals up till that point.
‘If I turned the season on its head, scored the goals that I did, played the games, I would have taken that because I got 19, considering the season before,’ he explains.
‘I was disappointed with the way it ended. But I was happy for the team, winning the FA Cup, when you’re trying to get back into the team, the team’s winning, then it’s always going to be difficult because there’s so much competition and will continue to be like that.’
Much has been made of last season’s late switch to three at the back following the Palace pounding, and the change in fortunes that brought.
Walcott believes that more time to work on the tactical shift will put them in a stronger position come the season’s opener against Leicester on August 12.
‘We didn’t have too much time to train on it,’ he says. ‘But now we’ve got some time in pre-season to work on it and work on other things. Just to be a bit more adventurous – that’s going to change this season.’
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that night at Palace. Wenger has his new contract, Alexandre Lacazette has joined for a club record £53m and the new season is around the corner.
Walcott, however, remains honest.
‘This season there has to be more,’ he says. ‘It has to be this season, there’s no holding back now and there’s going to be a lot more pressure but I think we can deal with it.’
Wenger may already have his secret weapon in Walcott Mark 2.
‘I’ve spoken to the manager,’ the England star explains. ‘Maybe I will change my role in this formation slightly, we’ll see how it goes, if it works.’
Any guidance on how that will look?
Walcott grins. ‘I can’t really say what the role is. Playing right wing back. No, I can’t really say.’