Have Arsenal really shown enough faith?
“Walcott Sign Da Ting” might possibly be my song of the year, although “One Pound Fish” would be a close second. Comedy tunes aside, the fact Theo Walcott is yet to sign a new contract at Arsenal despite now being a matter of days away from January 1st, when other clubs can offer the winger a pre-contract to sign him for free in the summer, is no doubt worrying Gunners fans.
Walcott made his reluctance to extend his contract at the Emirates well known at the start of the season, citing that he feels he deserves a better wage, and that he would like to be considered predominantly as a striker instead of a winger as his main reasons for not signing on the dotted line. But, is there an underlying problem here? Does Theo Walcott feel unappreciated by his club, and for that matter, has Arsene Wenger shown enough faith in him?
The 23-year-old has really dispelled some myths this season. In the past, Walcott has been judged on his weaknesses rather than his strengths by the majority of football fans, including myself. At this point, it’s well known and has been continually pointed out by TV pundits, most memorably Alan Hansen, that Walcott is somewhat lacking in terms of intelligence whilst on the football pitch. His lack of composure and poor reading of situations often leads him to make the wrong decision, and a lot of the time he seems to forget to use his best asset – his electric pace – and attack around his full-back, opting rather to cut inside too early whilst in possession. Since arriving at Arsenal in 2006, the England international has been labelled as inconsistent to say the least, and is often considered to be a better bench option, as his pace can change a game in an instant, than deserving a place in the Gunners’ Starting XI.
This season however, Walcott has by far been Arsenal’s most consistent player, and unlike many of his team-mates, the winger certainly can’t be accused of putting in passive performances. His goal record is outstanding, with 11 goals in 18 appearances in all competitions, and on top of that Walcott has got himself seven assists. For those of you that aren’t maths wizzes, thats 18 goals in 18 games that Walcott has been directly responsible for. Despite this impressive feat, Arsene Wenger has continually chosen Aaron Ramsey over him out wide, despite him being a central midfielder by trade, and up front the Frenchman has gone for Gervinho – who couldn’t hit a corpse with a shovel at the minute – and Olivier Giroud, who’s had a decent if unceremonious start in English football.
Looking back at Walcott’s career, it’s difficult to understand why he’s been given such a hard time. Last year, he finished up with 11 goals and 10 assists, and the season before he netted 13 times and provided nine goals. Part of the problem has been the fact Walcott has been a regular at Arsenal since he was just 17 years old. He’s still three or four years away from reaching his footballing peak, but has already received criticism for his supposed lack of ability. I can understand the disgruntlements, especially from Arsenal fans. The England man has a knack of wasting good opportunities to score, and his crossing and passing often leaves a lot to be desired. But whether he plays well or badly, it would be unfair to accuse Walcott of ever showing a lack of commitment. This season especially, whilst the rest of the team have been mediocre, he’s played with a desire and aggression that has helped him produce some storming performances, including his romping of Reading in the Capital One Cup.
Arsene Wenger has tried to bury the hatchet with his want-away winger, openly telling reporters that Walcott deserves the wage demands he’s been asking for. But as Wenger himself has very often argued – It’s not all about the money. There appears to be this expectancy with Arsenal fans that Walcott owes them to sign a new deal, and his dissidence is somewhat unwarranted. A story released today by many newspapers has Wenger quoted as saying “I feel as well that I bought him at 17 years of age and spent a lot of money on him…Somewhere along the line they need to give back to the club what the club has given to them.”
You can understand the French gaffer’s frustrations, the number of players who have turned their backs on the club to better their own careers, no matter how much blame you decide to place on Wenger for that, has been a direct cause of the club’s current drop in quality. Furthermore, it is hard to believe Walcott would be in the position he’s in now without Wenger paying £5million for a 16 year old, which could eventually rise to £12million. But Walcott doesn’t strike me as a careerist; he’s just tired of being overlooked.
Even the winger’s dad once described him as a one-trick Pony, but that singular skill that Walcott possesses – his incomparable pace – makes him capable of making a difference against any defence, regardless of quality, and tactically having a player with such speed is a huge benefit; it not only dictates how your opponents must play, but it also provides a reliable outlet in counter-attacking. Any searching ball played over the top essentially gives Walcott a half-chance of getting through on goal.
The fact that Manchester United and Chelsea are two of the clubs who appear most interested in singing him, along with Liverpool, speaks volumes in terms of how valuable Walcott could be to a team. It’s doubtful the Englishman would instantly command a place in either the Chelsea or United starting line-up, but considering both clubs are title challengers, his ability to impact any game has been widely recognised by the Premier League’s elite.
It’s not a case of money with Walcott, in fact the impression I get is that he’s one of football’s nice guys, he just wants some love and not be viewed as a speed-donkey. Walcott has been a great servant to his club, and despite not yet reaching his best years, has had a positive impact on the first team over the past few seasons. It’s time he was viewed at the Emirates as a real contender, with a regular place in the side. He deserves it more than many of his team-mates, who continually keep their place whether playing good or bad. And finally, the Gunners will certainly miss him when he’s gone.