Theo Walcott’s Arsenal career has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride.
Signed at just 16, the hefty price tag and potential Walcott possessed set him up for a fall. Although that has most certainly not happened, yet another slow and uncertain set of contract negotiations suggests any further development may well take place elsewhere.
Crippling injuries have been a feature of Walcott’s career, striking him down each time he appears to have cemented his place in the starting lineup, showing signs he may well yet become the superstar he was touted to be.
With each injury too comes an eagerness for his return, another form of hope and expectation with regards to his ability. His electric pace and clinical finishing are more fabled rumours than stone cold fact. Even 10 years on from his high profile move, it seems we still know little about Theo Walcott and the true extent of his ability.
There have no doubt been glimpses of it however. Running the length of the pitch in a Champions League tie with Liverpool, leaving the opposition for dust only to then selflessly serve the ball on a silver platter for teammate Emmanuel Adebayor to slot home.
His hat-trick against Newcastle, completed by dancing in between three defenders before nonchantely dinking the ball over the on rushing Tim Krul. The boy, or man, no doubt has talent.
However, contract negotiations have always been tough during his time at Arsenal, with first team appearances and preferred positions often being the main obstacles in the way of progress. Also, it seems that as more players are added to the roster, Walcott’s first team prospects look bleaker.
Alexis Sanchez has transformed himself in to an indispensable member of the squad, whilst Walcott finds a number of people ahead of him for his preferred roles.
Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Mesut Ozil, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Aaron Ramsey have been deployed in the attacking positions Walcott is most likely to be used, and with injuries constantly hampering any progress he makes in terms of climbing this lengthy list of names, his time at Arsenal may well be running out.
Arsene Wenger spoke recently, claiming Walcott’s lack of action was due to his fitness. He stated he is simply not ready but also claimed Walcott would have a great goal scoring record should he stay at the London club.
“I believe that Theo has a great future… he is very young and I believe he will have a great goalscoring record in the future because of the quality and intelligence of his game.”
Wenger may well believe this, and I for one do not doubt that if Walcott played regularly and at 100 percent he would enjoy a purple patch or two. However, the question remains, due to his many injuries and the potential of even more competition arriving at Arsenal, whether making these appearances is likely to happen.
The Arsenal manager also spoke, albeit in a different press conference, about finally finding the perfect balance for his side.
“I believe that we’ve found a better balanced team during the season as well.”
This too is an ominous sign for the England forward. Walcott’s strengths lie very much in his pace; making intelligent off the ball runs and being deadly with just three touches of the ball. Despite showing himself to be a bit rusty in recent weeks, Walcott has always scored goals when he has played.
Yet, with this new balance signalling a return to an intricate passing style, full of interchanging positions and quick one-twos, Walcott operating in this system seems very ‘square peg round hole’ given his strengths, and more importantly his weaknesses.
The lack of width and off the ball runs have been a problem for Arsenal in recent weeks, yes. However, although Walcott would offer this in abundance, it is his lack of conviction and discomfort with the ball at his feet deep in his own half that could mean leaving Arsenal is his only option should he want to play week in, week out.
Walcott spoke of Arsenal’s recent form, claiming they were the best team in Europe this year. Stats suggested Barcelona were better, but there was definitely an element of truth to Walcott’s bold claims.
“In this calendar year, we’ve been the best team in Europe.”
Form aside, the very fact Arsenal have been so impressive without Walcott in the team is yet another factor making any potential return to the side extremely difficult.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
There is no denying Walcott’s ability, and he is certainly good enough for the Arsenal team. However, with the avenues Wenger his exploring and the direction the team is heading, if Walcott wants consistent Premier League football, he may be better off leaving, no matter how heavy hearted it would be.
It’s easy to stay and compete for your place when your team is winning trophies and you are enjoying success as a group. Think of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and even champions Chelsea. They all have amazing squads with proven internationals sitting on the bench, or even in the reserves.
The one thing that motivates them to stay is the knowledge life could not get any better. At Arsenal however, despite winning the FA Cup last year and only Aston Villa standing in their way of lifitng the trophy for a second consecutive season, their recent lack of silverware has been well documented and without the promise of success, many players have lacked the patience to stick it out in north London.
Granted, Walcott’s position is slightly different to that of Van Persie and co. in the past. They were very much first team regulars yet saw no sign of progression. Walcott on the other hand is on the fringes of the first team squad, whilst the team itself is on the brink of more consistently achieving and challenging for the highest honours.
Any decision to stay will revolve around the scale of this potential success, what part Walcott will play in achieving it, and whether he wants to stick around to find out.
It also depends on how highly he is valued by the club.
WANTED, BUT NO LONGER NEEDED
His style of play is becoming less and less compatible to the team’s itself. If Arsenal are unwilling to offer the amount he is looking for because of this, it may well force his hand in terms of seeking pastures new.
Jim Gordon’s famous quote about Batman seems fitting here. He stated Batman was ‘the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now’ and the very same could be said about Walcott’s relationship with his current club.
Arsenal are definitely a great fit for Walcott in terms of stature and ability, but with the current squad performing as it is, whether he will be appreciated and/or required at the Emirates Stadium would still remain to be seen.
As usual, Aresene Wenger will conduct all of his business in the summer, and quietly so. However, the major thing to look out for come next season will not be the arrival of new faces, but the departure of familiar ones.
Whether Walcott puts pen to paper on a new deal or if he is deemed surplus to requirements will be interesting to watch. I’m sure there are already many Premier League clubs keeping an eye on the situation.