Unlike Robin van Persie’s precarious contract situation many Arsenal fans are viewing the Theo Walcott dilemma with a somewhat less apocalyptic state of mind. Since he arrived at the club in 2006 he has divided opinion with a consistency that his on-field performances have often lacked.
Walcott ended last season with 11 goals and 12 assists to his name. Not bad for a player who spends much of his time giving the ball away and running aimlessly down the line. His playing relationship with van Persie last season was a key factor in the success of both Arsenal and their captain and for all his frustrating performances he is, statistically, one of the most valuable members of the squad.
So, why then are so many Arsenal fans unperturbed by the prospect of his departure? And, what should the club’s next move be?
When Manchester United spent a considerable amount of money on Wayne Rooney it seemed like money well spent. When Arsenal spent big on Theo Walcott the progress an worth he brought to the team was a lot less tangible. That his progress has been slow is undeniable, but so is the fact that progress has been made.
There are no two footballers that are the same. Each needs to be nurtured in a different manner and whilst Walcott’s developments have been disappointingly turgid he would undoubtedly continue to improve at another club. The problem that fans have in determining his worth to the club comes largely out of the money spent on him, and the money may have to spend.
For example, will he improve enough over the length of a new contract to justify both the wages he is demanding and the fee that the club could get for him were they to sell him this summer?
The question surrounding Walcott has moved away from being about his talent and more towards whether, despite his talent, he is a worthwhile member of the squad. Is it enough for him to simply have a decent statistical record or is that completely undermined by the number of abject performances he displays throughout the season. That is problem for Wenger. The Frenchman knows him best and will have a pretty clear idea of what he is ‘worth’ both to the team and financially.
This brings us on to the next issue. How should the club approach what it quite clearly a dangerous situation? Resolutions need to be made quickly in order to facilitate a healthy and productive pre-season.
It appears, however, that the two parties could be some distance apart in their expectations for Walcott’s new contract. It is important to remember that it was Walcott and his representatives who broke of negotiations last season, claiming he would rather wait to see how the season panned out before signing a new deal.
There is something not quite right about a player with so much to prove believing that Arsenal should somehow be grateful for him to sign a new deal, that he should be the one to make the final decision.
The van Persie situation is, to an extent, understandable. He is a world-class striker approaching the end of his career. Walcott is a largely un-proven 23 year old who owes a lot to Arsenal for the money and faith they have invested in him.
However, there is probably more than just the issue of money that needs to be sorted out between the two parties. Having watched the meteoric rise of Oxlade-Chamberlain last year, Walcott will undoubtedly want assurances of his place in the starting eleven – something that Wenger would be unlikely to assist him with.
Arsenal now have Podolski, Gervinho, Chamberlain, Miyaichi, Arshavin and Theo all competing for those players. Even if some of them were sold or loaned out it would still be a big ask to guarantee one player’s place in the team.
To be honest you would have to say that Walcott is probably right to fear Chamberlain’s presence. Given Alex’s rate of progression, it may not be long before he usurps his England team-mate.
The other contentious issue will obviously be money. With Walcott rumoured to be looking for close to 100k per week there is clear daylight between him and the club. It is therefore understandable that Walcott may be looking to move away. Even if he saw out the remainder of his contract at Arsenal, if he spent the next season playing second fiddle to Chamberlain then the wages he may be able to command could be considerably less.
Walcott is at a stage where he needs to play and there should be little doubt in fans’ minds that players are thinking about the World Cup squad for Brazil in 2014. Walcott has already missed one World Cup and he will not let that happen again. Moreover, to lose his place in the starting line up could be cataclysmic for his development as a player.
So too, could losing Walcott be for Arsenal. It would be hugely disappointing to see yet another young nurtured Arsenal star leaving for greener pastures. However, can the club afford to take the risk of paying him too much and him never fulfilling the potential that high wages would indicate?
Unlike his captain, Walcott has at least managed to conduct his affairs with some level of decorum and it is perhaps testament to his good nature that little has been made of his contract situation so far. Yes, the Arsenal captain has been hogging much of the limelight but Walcott has also mentioned nothing about a move away. However unattached some Arsenal fans may feel towards Walcott it would seem foolhardy to let him leave at this stage of his career, particularly for a rival, whether Walcott is willing to stay and earn both his wage and his place in the team is another matter.