Theo Walcott’s impressive performance in the incredible 7-5 victory at Reading on Tuesday night, in which the striker scored a hat-trick, earning him the man of the match award, discussions have yet again been brought to the surface in the media as to where Walcott’s future lies.
Walcott has certainly received masses of praise since his performance on Tuesday night. Arsene Wenger has made it clear since the win at Reading that he wants the contract dispute which has plagued the 23-year-old’s season so far to be sorted within the next two months. However, should Wenger be breaking the bank to keep the Arsenal man?
When looking at Walcott’s role in the team, it is obvious to see that until his contractual situation is sorted out, he is surplus to requirements at the Emirates stadium. Whether Walcott’s lack of match action is to do with the dispute or not, with one Premier League start and six substitute appearances, it is perhaps disconcerting for the winger that Wenger is happy to play Aaron Ramsey at right-wing forward, a position which isn’t natural to the Welshman. Ramsay also doesn’t possess the natural explosive pace that is normally required to succeed in the right wing forward position.
It is also clear that Wenger does not envisage the England international as a central striker for the foreseeable future. The Capital One cup game, in which Wenger made several changes to the side that beat QPR on Saturday, was the Arsenal manager’s perfect opportunity to trial Walcott up front. Instead, he opted for an out of favour Marouane Chamakh and played Walcott in his accustomed right-wing forward position. Although, Wenger has insisted that Walcott has a long-term future in the centre, I somehow doubt his conviction in practising Walcott’s request.
Interestingly, what was noticeable about Walcott’s play on Tuesday night was a change of approach. During his bad patch last season where he was heavily criticised before he turned his season around in the 5-2 victory over Spurs, he was often inflexible and robotic and would occupy the wing as if his life depended on it. I wonder whether that has been a subtle conscious effort between Wenger and Walcott this season for the wide man to drift in to the play a little more. This added variation to his game certainly contributed to him being in the right position for each of his three goals on Tuesday, This was also perhaps an indication that finally, and is beginning to adopt to the Arsene Wenger style of free-flowing, short and direct style of football that he has always required from his side.
The other question when assessing the extent to which Arsene Wenger should be looking to extend the services of his speedy winger is whether he is any better than what they have already got at Arsenal? Would they actually miss Walcott? There are arguably five players who are capable in playing in Walcott’s primary position. This is a problem for Walcott as right hand side is certainly up for grabs for Arsenal. Wenger appears to know who he wants in the other attacking positions. It is hard to envisage Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere losing their places in the middle of the park as the season progresses. Lukas Podolski has impressed on the left wing since his arrival from Cologne in the summer and Wenger is a big fan of the Frenchman Giroud up front, and as mentioned, Wenger will not play Walcott in the centre, not in the short-term anyway.
Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky are the two players who are happier in the centre of midfield for the Gunners, but perhaps realise that their best opportunity of playing for the Gunners this season is out on the right. The other three out and out wide men capable of playing on the right are Andrei Arshavin, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Whilst it seems as if Arshavin will inevitably move back to Russia in January, Gervinho, although not completely fancied by many Arsenal supporters and primarily likes to play as a central striker, is an Arsene Wenger ‘yes’ man, and therefore looks to have a future ahead of him. Oxlade-Chamberlain is a talent, and although he would ideally deputise on the left, three starts and three substitute appearances have clearly demonstrated that he is in front of Walcott in the Arsenal pecking order at this moment in time. Therefore, with four players who can potentially fill Walcott’s position and who are likely to be at the Emirates post January transfer window, we must question whether Arsenal actually need Walcott? On the other hand, some may well argue that actually, Walcott is better than the five players I have mentioned, and therefore whilst competition in the right wing position is strong, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Walcott is irreplaceable.
The final thing to consider is whether Walcott has an important role to play in Arsenal’s future. Wenger has reiterated his desire to hold on to his man. I don’t think Wenger is one to mince his words, which was to his detriment in last week’s AGM in which he admitted that qualifying for the Champions League is more important than winning a domestic trophy. Therefore, I think it is obvious that Wenger rates Walcott highly despite leaving him out in the cold at the moment. I also think that whilst Walcott is a good player, he is not a cut above the rest of the Arsenal team like Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie were. Therefore, I cannot imagine Europe’s elite will come sniffing for Walcott like they did for the aforementioned players. For these reasons, I believe that Walcott does have a future at Arsenal.
However, whether he has a future at the club and whether Arsenal should be breaking the bank to keep him is a different matter. Ultimately, I believe that they shouldn’t. I am one of Walcott’s biggest admirers, but there are two reasons as to why I have come to this conclusion. Firstly, Arsenal fans have been let down with players making out as if they are bigger than the club. I’m not an Arsenal supporter, but if I were I would be sick to death of the lack of loyalty displayed by their top players. They have ultimately made Arsenal a selling club. If Walcott won’t sign, Arsenal need to make a stance and let him go. Secondly, when Arsenal lost Fabregas and RVP, there was a real air of dejection around Arsenal. I don’t get the impression that there would be as much grievance if Walcott were to leave the Emirates. Quality players like Fabregas and Van Persie will always be missed; unfortunately I just can’t say the same for Theo.