Ding ding! Round 47 of Theo Walcott’s contract negotiations are reportedly set to commence today, with the club reluctantly edging ever closer to the 23-year-old’s hefty wage demands. The Arsenal supporters made their feelings abundantly clear in the wake of another fine performance against Newcastle United, understandably eager not to see another invaluable asset depart North London.
Despite a difficult start to the season, in which Arsenal’s latest ‘contract rebel’ was confined to the bench, Walcott ended 2012 as the club’s leading goalscorer. However, while his performances as a recognised striker have been impressive, he hasn’t convinced his doubters just yet.
In both fixtures where Walcott excelled last year, the opposing defences were never expected to pose a suitable test for his audition as a centre-forward. Reading are very much a Championship side in disguise, having already conceded 40 goals in 21 games and will likely endure relegation once more barring a small miracle.
Newcastle on the other hand would have provided a sterner test if they were a) at full strength and b) not completely drained from an enthralling Boxing day encounter with Manchester United. In truth, both teams were lying seductively on the ropes, waiting to be torn apart.
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The first strike of Walcott’s hat-trick against the Toon Army prompted an alarming number of people to draw comparisons with Thierry Henry. At this stage of his career such comments are laughable, perhaps even insulting given the contrast between both players. Walcott may currently boast a similar brand of composure and confidence in front of goal, but his decision-making, link-up play and physical presence at the heart of the attack leave a lot to be desired.
The most infuriating aspect about Walcott is that his key attributes all point toward the make-up of a natural winger. His pace alone is enough to beat every full-back under the sun and his first assist for Olivier Giroud is evidence of his ability to produce an effective delivery. You don’t see Aaron Lennon or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain desperate to grab the glory up front. Is this just the latest example of an egotistical modern footballer?
Incidentally, if you pit him against the experienced figures of Ashley Cole or Patrice Evra, he fades into the background, seemingly incapable of adapting his game. If Walcott doesn’t possess the ‘footballing brain’ needed to succeed in all one-on-one situations, how will he fare under the watchful gaze of two, perhaps even three central defenders?
The signing of his next contract, wherever it may be, will signal the transition into the prime stage of his career. There can be no more excuses or hiding behind words such as ‘potential’ or ‘promise’ and as Gary Neville aptly summarised, he will still continue to learn but there “is no development left”. This is a daunting time for the player and I would suggest signing that deal before the club enters this daunting run of fixtures.
In January, Arsenal face a tricky FA Cup tie against fellow football enthusiasts Swansea City, before launching into a formidable four-game gauntlet in the league. A home encounter with reigning champions Manchester City is followed by a trip to Stamford Bridge. West Ham and Liverpool then lie in wait, with both expected to invest heavily during the transfer window. This isn’t so much a challenge for Walcott and Arsenal, more a terrifying ordeal.
Although Arsene Wenger has ruled out losing his newfound goal machine this month, the Frenchman can consider himself fortunate that there are few destinations capable of offering Walcott what he so desperately craves. Both Manchester clubs have a prolific foursome at their disposal, while Chelsea and Liverpool have established first-choice front men. Italian giants Juventus had been touted as a possibility, but how many English players have flourished on foreign shores in recent years?
Theo Walcott’s goals and assists will always decorate the headlines and highlight reels, but his antics over 90 minutes fail to showcase the complete package. He does however possess all the pieces to a very rewarding puzzle, which unfortunately is only likely to be solved by financial incentives. In truth, Arsenal simply cannot afford to let him go, much in the same way they cannot afford to pay him what he wants. Walcott holds all the cards in this prolonged standoff, Wenger can only hope he can be the ace up his sleeve.