Does Theo Walcott Have An Arsenal Future?
The day begins with the unsettling news that Abou Diaby is out of France’s squad for tonight’s game against Belarus with a muscle strain. The injury might not be severe and his exclusion could be a precaution but Diaby and setbacks go hand-in-hand so it’s worrying nevertheless. With the Cazorla-Diaby-Arteta trio combining nicely in midfield, let’s hope the Frenchman is available for Saturday as Arsenal look to build on victory at Anfield.
Another Arsenal player to be sent home from World Cup qualifiers is Theo Walcott, the winger having picked up a virus on Sunday. Having already seen Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain take his place at Arsenal and England, the withdrawal is more bad luck for Theo as he tries to get back his starting spot for club and country.
In a summer dominated by Robin van Persie’s departure to United and subsequently the sudden sale of Alex Song to Barcelona, the fact Walcott has now entered into the final year of his contract has gone slightly under the radar. A day before the transfer window shut, Arsene Wenger confirmed the winger would stay at Arsenal and that a deal is being negotiated. Unfortunately, this is another situation that is likely to come back and bite the Gunners next summer – or even as early as January.
There’s obvious disagreement over wages offered by Arsenal and Walcott’s expectation. One would expect that if the difference had been small, a solution would’ve been found before the start of the season. So assuming the gap is substantial, both parties need to adjust their positions to arrive at a compromise.
At the moment, although Theo Walcott is an important member of the team, the arrival of Podolski, the emergence of Oxlade-Chamberlain and competition from Gervinho has meant the speedster finds himself down the list of Arsenal’s options in wide areas. The Gunners will certainly need his pace in certain games but he’s no longer an automatic choice on that right-wing.
Now let’s consider the scenarios that are likely to pan out and ramifications on Walcott’s Arsenal future.
If the 23-year-old finds himself on the fringes of the first team, he is likely to refuse an extension in order to secure more playing time elsewhere. Come January, Arsenal would be forced to sell out at a reduced price or face the prospect of letting a 24-year-old England international leave for free in the summer. Even then, the player will be in the driving seat as the former Southampton youngster can insist on seeing out his contract and leave for nothing in June.
On the other hand, Theo could have a blistering season à la Mathieu Flamini. If that happens, it’s reasonable to expect that in May, Walcott’s wage demands would be even higher than at present. Consider also that in the absence of a transfer fee, the likes of City, Chelsea, United and Liverpool will all be interested in his signature and willing to pay a hefty salary to secure his services.
The final scenario is that Arsenal manage Theo’s time on the pitch, giving him enough games to be motivated to stay while not enough to raise interest from other parties. From a footballing perspective, that may prove difficult though.
While Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain have shown better form in the early part of the season, Theo’s pace would certainly help Arsenal’s counter-attacking game plan. And with Olivier Giroud likely to be Arsenal’s central striker for the time being, Walcott’s delivery from the right could prove crucial to the Gunner’s goal-scoring form. If Walcott does go on a good run, it will be difficult for the manager to leave him out regardless of his contract situation.
So irrespective of how Walcott performs, the chances that he’ll be an Arsenal player next season appear quite slim.
There are only two reasons I can think of that would make Theo Walcott stay, regardless of his showing this season. The first is that Walcott truly loves being at Arsenal. Arsene Wenger mentioned the youngster’s affection for the club when he spoke about Theo’s contract situation at the end of August. But over the last three years, we have seen player after player leave for better prospects so I’m not optimistic about ‘love’ being the deal-maker in this case.
More likely, it may be that Walcott believes Arsenal is the best place for him to achieve his potential. He comes across as a shy but intelligent man. While he gets repeated opportunities and a conducive environment to express himself at the Emirates, Theo may be worried about being consigned to the bench at places like City and Chelsea if he can’t hit the ground running. On the flip side, after six trophy-less years with the Gunners, Walcott may decide it’s time to step out of the comfort zone and try his luck elsewhere.
Although his performances have been inconsistent at the top-level, last season was Walcott’s finest for the club. At just 23 years of age, his best footballing years are still ahead of him. Despite the Gunners having a host of pacy wingers in the pipeline (Miyaichi, Campbell, Gnabry), it would be disappointing to see Walcott producing the goods for a Premier League rival after Arsenal have born his ‘growing’ pains.