With the news that Arsenal’s Theo Walcott has finally signed ended his ongoing contract saga and signed a new three-and-a-half year deal, you would have thought such news would finally dampen the endless scaremongering and gloomy analysis cast towards the Gunners’ future prospects.
With the club now adding Walcott to the British quintet of Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Carl Jenkinson at Kieran Gibbs whose future’s have also been tied down during the course of this term, it would appear that the club looked to have finally learned from the mistakes made in recent history.
Yet in awarding Theo Walcott terms thought to be worth around £100,000 all in over a three-and-a-half year contract, all the Gunners may have done is simply ensured that the status quo of their current Premier League position resumes for a longer period of time. Because while they can’t control the extrinsic factors that inflate the wages top clubs are handing out to players in this league, they’ve played their own part in having to shell out the six-figure sum that Walcott is now earning at the club.
And let’s be under no illusions, regardless of the impact supporters feel he may or may not wield in Arsene Wenger’s side, there’s simply no way he should be earning the money that he’s now set to receive. For all his recent good form – which as proven within recent games, still continues to be patchy – would Walcott likely get a look in within the first XI of Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea?
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The answer has to be an emphatic no for both Manchester clubs and even if he could creep into Rafael Benitez’s line-up at the moment, Arsenal are paying Walcott the sort of pay packet worthy of a title-winning player. So if the club have genuine designs at heading back to where their supporters believe they belong and challenging for Premier League titles, then they’ve just shot themselves straight in the foot.
Because say for argument’s sake they were to now pursue the signature of Napoli’s Edinson Cavani, a player whom many would regard to be within the ranks of Europe’s elite frontmen and certainly the type of player that could make a difference in hauling them back into title-winning contention. The Uruguayan is thought to be earning within the region of £75,000-a-week at the Stadio San Paolo – ironically the same amount of money Walcott originally rejected during his first round of contract talks.
Yet by backing Walcott with the sort of money they’re now currently paying him, Arsenal have set the bar a hell of a lot higher for themselves in terms of paying the wages for the quality they need to bridge the gap back to the two Manchester clubs. Would Cavani have ‘settled’ on a hypothetical pay packet of £120,000-a-week? Who knows, but he’s only going to have to take one look at what Walcott’s earning to demand a fair chunk more than that.
But should we really be all that surprised by the contract handed out to Theo Walcott? Because in truth, Arsenal had set the wheels in motion for rewarding players with contracts far beyond their actual worth long before Walcott’s wage demands reared their ugly head.
When Arsenal parted with £6.2million for Andre Santos back in 2011, few would have necessarily foreseen how bad that move was to eventually amount to, but equally few were in any doubt of the role he was set to play in the team; a squad player, capable of playing his part in all competitions, but nothing nearing a first-team banker.
Yet why did they agree to pay a potential squad player the wages equivalent to what an established first-teamer earned at the Emirates? Paying a 28-year old left-back whose best spell in Europe amounted to a couple of modest seasons in the Turkish Super League near on £60,000-a-week all inclusive, was an accident waiting to happen.
It was a horridly short-sighted decision that gave little thought for those, including Walcott, looking to earn their next contract. But when the England-man had substantially proved his worth last season, in relation to the other contracts being handed out at the Emirates, valuing Walcott’s worth to the team at barely 25% more than Andre Santos’ was never going to be enough. The money being handed out to Marouane Chamkah and Andrei Arshavin amongst others only adds to the trend.
Yet they’re still not getting the balance right. In a desperate effort to prevent any repeats of the fiasco that Walcott recently brought to the club, Arsenal hastily tied down their aforementioned quintet of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain et al on long-term deals. But for all his injury troubles, has Aaron Ramsey really earned a £60,000-a-week deal? Likewise, for all the progression Oxlade-Chamberlain has made, he was already under a long-term deal with no desire to leave. He made big strides last term, but did they need to hand him out better terms after just 12 months? Or is it just a further adjustment to an already skewed wage bill?
For the last available published accounts, the Gunners possessed a wage bill £33million more expensive than Tottenham Hotspur’s. Yet over the last two season’s, the gap between themselves and their North London rivals has in fact shrunk, rather than increased. The continuous flow of Champions League football has been the overwhelming fuel behind that disparity. Their failure to manage it properly may well be driving force behind what brings it back down again.