What next for Theo Walcott?

Arsenal have enjoyed a decent summer so far by their standards in the transfer market, after completing the signings of both Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud to help bolster their attack. However, the one deal that everyone is waiting with bated breath to fully unfold involves star striker Robin van Persie. Reports have linked Theo Walcott with a move away from the club should the Dutchman leave, so does he still have a role left to play for Arsene Wenger’s side?

An intriguing sub-plot ahead of the new campaign is the nature of what system Wenger chooses lines up with. His team selection last year indicated a preference for a fluid 4-3-3 and it certainly suits the players that he has at his disposal, with the likes of Song, Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey and Wilshere all comfortable playing in a three-man midfield. Of course, this then leads to the debate over whether the club still requires a recognised holding man (they do), but that’s for another time.

Walcott is continually hampered by expectation. After first bursting onto the scene as a raw 16 year-old playing up front for Southampton and then ludicrously being taken to the 2006 World Cup by England manager at the time Sven Goran Eriksson, he’s been fighting an uphill battle from an early age.

In reality, he’s not a terrible player, but he’s unlikely to ever be the world-beater everyone initially hoped he would be, which distorts people’s views somewhat and how we objectively judge him. If he had come through the youth ranks at Arsenal instead and not gone to the 2006 World Cup, he may be more widely revered. Nevertheless, there are aspects of his game that are undeniably underdeveloped still, and at the age of 23, while he’s improving gradually, it’s at a much slower rate than the amount of football he’s had over the years should suggest.

He’s been repeatedly linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, with both Liverpool (the club he supported as a boy) and Chelsea linked to him, while French giants PSG are also in the frame. Any supposed transfer away is supposed to hinge on the club sorting Van Persie’s future out and helping him see the light so to speak, which looks increasingly unlikely given yesterday’s contract bombshell. To be honest, it doesn’t seem like Walcott to be the type of player to force a move through anywhere, he seems like the sort of affable young chap who is quite happy to go along with the status quo and not rock the boat, so from the player’s side at least, it doesn’t quite stack up.

Van Persie is known to be a huge fan of Walcott’s and the England international enjoyed his most productive campaign last term, finishing with 11 assists and eight goals in 35 league games – a fine return by any winger’s standards. His crossing still sways wildly between the abject to putting it on a plate for a team-mate, but there has been clear progress with concerns to his end product.

But with Giroud and Podolski moving to the club, the fee of the former and reputation of the latter would suggest that they are certain to start next season more often than not. Giroud has never played in anything other than a central role, so if Van Persie stays, the Frenchman is likely to be the focal point, with Van Persie and Podolski either side of him out wide.

The rumours about Van Persie’s move away haven’t relented and they’re likely to go into overdrive after he admitted that he won’t be extending his contract to stay at the Emirates, but realistically, only two clubs still remain in the hunt for him – Juventus and Manchester City – both can offer him the silverware he so craves, but at 29 years of age, he represents something of a short-term signing. To put it simply, to Arsenal he is worth upwards of £30m, but from a buyer’s perspective, you’d be mad to pay that for him, especially considering his past injury record and the fact that he has just a year left on his contract, so there is still a long way to go with this one yet and this summer’s most inane transfer story is only just beginning.

If Van Persie does stay, though, that leaves Gervinho, Walcott, Podolski, Van Persie and Giroud to battle it out for three attacking spots. I suspect that we’re more likely to see Oxlade-Chamberlain play a little more in a central role next season just as he did to great effect in the 3-0 win over AC Milan in the Champions League last term, so it could be as many as six into three.

You could rightly call this strength in depth and from the fans’ perspective, it’s great to have that much attacking quality in your squad, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the players will be happy with the situation. The deadwood of Chamakh, Park Chu-Young and Bendtner are all likely to be moved on but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Walcott go too if his first-team opportunities limited.

I argued just last week that Aaron Ramsey could benefit from a loan move away from the club next year amid strong rumours linking the club with Yann M’Vila – with Fulham a mooted suggestion soon after. Walcott’s profile is such that he would probably refuse a loan move. I don’t see it as the club particularly wanting to get rid of Walcott, or of the player wanting to force through a move elsewhere, as has been suggested recently, but more of a mutual dawning realisation that he’s no longer one of the top dogs at the club.

Progress with Walcott has been slow, sometimes painfully, so it would be a shame to throw that all away now. Across the full course of a full campaign, he’s still likely start roughly 30 games, maybe more, but after getting a taste of being a relied upon regular last season, would that be enough for him? One suspects not.

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