It has taken seven years since arriving at Arsenal, but Theo Walcott’s career has finally started. Maybe that’s giving this whole contract situation an unnecessary Hollywood touch, but considering the time it took to get the deal signed and delivered – and Arsenal are certainly not without fault – there is rightly plenty expected from the England international.
Walcott has become the best paid player at Arsenal following this round of negotiations, but he’s far from their best on the pitch. What the contract represents is something more than just extending the stay of one of the club’s most important names; there’s no escaping how devastating Walcott’s departure could have been to the club’s image and the supporters’ mind-set, an impact which stretches far beyond the loss of his realistic value on the pitch.
But I have no reservations about saying that this protracted saga was all about the money, while talk of positions on the field was a cleverly placed, yet not totally convincing smokescreen. Walcott got exactly what he wanted; he was under no pressure to sign a contract at Arsenal and certainly could have been given stronger promises of silverware at other clubs. But becoming the highest paid player at Arsenal signals his arrival at the big time. He can no longer hide behind Cesc Fabregas or Robin van Persie; he can no longer use the excuse that he’s young and still learning his trade. Playing out of position is one thing, but there is a lot of criticism that can justifiably be levelled at his technique and propensity to be wasteful. Walcott is a man, one who is now on a senior squad member’s wages.
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I’m not saying a chorus of boos should rain down on the player if he fails to live up to expectation for a prolonged spell in the coming months. However, I do believe that sport fans have a right to be critical. If that comes in the form of blogs or on Twitter then fine, but it’s also acceptable for fans to voice their opinions in a stadium. Footballers live in a completely different world to everyone else, but there are times when they need to be made aware of their responsibilities to their club. Rewards come in the form of big contracts, and especially Walcott’s with only a few years in length. Yet, there should be no immunity from those who are failing to earn it.
Walcott has delivered a number of performances this season that would suggest he deserves the contract he’s on. And once again, contracts such as these go beyond just what a player can do on the pitch. The spirit around the Emirates following the 7-3 win over Newcastle was incredibly high – arguably the highest it has been for a long time. Yes it’s nice for fans to experience big wins over teams who should be considered a good side in English football, but there was an added sense of hope, one which saw so many look to Walcott as the new star in a team desperately in need of one. After so many frustrating seasons, was he finally delivering on promises?
There might have been similar feelings against Reading in the League Cup, hope and belief in the player that he would do what was needed every time he was put through on goal and racing away from opposition defenders. Arsenal fans are currently more than deserving of something to be a little excited about; it’s not always a dangerous thing to get a little carried away by the potential of what’s to come.
Most will continue to look at Jack Wilshere as the face of this Arsenal team, and that is right. But Walcott has been in the team longer, is older, has experienced more, and thus has higher expectations. He’s far more than just a sprinter, but people want to see regularly that he is capable of so much more.
Walcott wanted a contract that gives an accurate representation of his status at Arsenal and in the England national team. However, that contract certainly doesn’t come without a great deal of expectation.