Theo Walcott says he always looks forward to coming back to work, which speaks volumes for the privilege of his profession and also the seemingly boundless levels of his enthusiasm. These have been stamped all over Arsenal's pre-season tour of east Asia, where he has appeared the player feted most by the locals. In Indonesia, they called him TJ, his boyhood nickname. After three summers in these parts, a bond has built and nobody works it quite like Theo.
Walcott is almost slavering with anticipation about the new season, partly because it is so good for him to be back with his football mates but mostly because he senses opportunity. Unlike some of his colleagues, who have sounded nearly as consumed as the supporters by whom Arsène Wenger will sign, Walcott focuses on what Arsenal already have, which is the talent to beat anybody on any given day, momentum from the back end of last season and, crucially, an egomaniac-free team spirit that anyone of longevity at the club says is the strongest for years.
Walcott believes it was what drove the team back from the brink last season to prolong their membership of the Premier League's top four and that it will be the foundation stone for what he says ought to be a sustained title challenge.
"I've never known us work as hard for each other as we did last season," Walcott said. "We've got it in us to beat anyone when we all work hard for each other. If we can beat Bayern Munich, as we did last season, we can beat anyone. That's what we should be focusing on.
"We showed last season that we can be consistent and our form table at the end was right at the top. That's why it can be quite frustrating. But we work on the positives because we have so much experience and great players in this team. Who knows who will come in but we'll work on the squad we've got at this moment and it's very strong. I always look forward to coming back to work. The summer goes quickly but I always look forward to playing football and getting back with all my mates again."
The presence of one of them in pre-season has fired his optimism. Jack Wilshere missed half of last season and the whole of the previous one because of ankle trouble and he now feels like a new signing, even if the fans will not allow Wenger to peddle that line.
Wilshere underwent a minor ankle operation in May and he began the pre-season a little behind his team-mates. But he featured for 23 minutes against a Vietnam XI on Wednesday and Wenger plans to build up his playing time gradually in the upcoming friendlies. Next up are Nagoya Grampus in Japan on Monday. Wenger says that Wilshere has a good chance of being match-fit for the season opener against Aston Villa.
"It's so important for the club that Jack stays fit," Walcott said. "He gets everything ticking and makes everything sort of flow. I didn't really get to play with Jack at all last season so it's nice that he's back. He's had so many injury problems at such a young age and now we hope they've gone out of the window. Without a doubt, he's going to make our team better. He can spot anything when you're making your runs. We're definitely going to have a very good season together."It was last season when it arguably all came together for Walcott. He added goals to the assists to finish as the club's leading scorer with 21 in all competitions; there was a consistent quality to his performances and he saw his status reflected when he finally agreed a new £100,000-a-week contract until 2016 in January. And yet, it was also the season when he said he felt the most stress, which is quite a statement from the player who went to the World Cup finals with England at 17.
"The three weeks before the contract was sorted out were the most stressful and the most pressure I've ever had to cope with," Walcott said. "It was very difficult but I got through it. I always knew where I wanted to be. I had my family and the best person to talk to is always the manager, who has been great to me. Now, I want to push on and help this club to where I believe we should be. We shouldn't be just challenging for a Champions League spot, we should be challenging for the title."
Walcott is yet to win a trophy in his career – he joined from Southampton eight months after Arsenal's last silverware; the 2005 FA Cup – and it is not something that he cares to be reminded about. It is, though, something he intends to put right.
"I'm determined to win something at this club, just to repay the manager for the belief he has and the faith he shows when he brings in players at such a young age," Walcott said. "He puts young players in there and just says: 'Go and do your thing.' He's given me the chance to go from playing in the Championship to playing in the World Cup. I've had my ups and downs but it's definitely on the up now and I'm very excited."