Wasn’t Theo Walcott supposed to be the next Thierry Henry? Although I’m sure that no one expected him to reach such heights, Arsenal fans had hope. In Walcott, they saw a player with unlimited potential.
A player who, one day, might even be able to eclipse some of Arsenal’s legends. And yet, due to a combination of injuries at crucial points in his career, and a general lack of development, he has been unable to reach those lofty expectations.
So, with Walcott’s contract expiring in the summer of 2016, as per the Mirror, should Arsenal renew his contract? In short, no.
The last time that Walcott’s contract was about to expire was in the 2012-13 season, where he coincidentally had his best ever season, scoring 14 goals from 32 league appearances*, becoming Arsenal’s top goal scorer in the process. A successful season for a winger, but a tally that should be the average for Henry’s heir, not the zenith.
I cannot stress that it was sheer coincidence that Walcott produced his highest figures ever, whilst embroiled in a contract dispute. Totally coincidental. 100%. Due to his rich vein of form, Walcott’s demands were settled, and he received a tidy contract extension that made him the club’s highest paid player, somewhere in the region of £90,000-a-week, as per the Mirror.
Now, as Walcott’s contract is dwindling down, he wants a raise. In fact, John Cross reports that Walcott wants to be in the “top-pay tier with Mesut Ozil (£140,000-per-week) and Alexis Sanchez (£130,000).” Whatever your thoughts may be on Ozil, you must agree that he is a superior player to Walcott.
And if Arsenal agree to his demands this time, then they could be forced to restructure their wage system. What if, upon hearing the news that Walcott is now a top earner, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey feel that they too deserve a raise? Both of them are just as important as Walcott, if not more. Then Arsenal’s system, one that has been lauded for it’s economic brilliance, is left in tatters.
What allowed for Walcott to receive such a luxurious deal? Well, he caught Arsenal at its weakest. Having lost Robin van Persie the previous transfer window, and Fabregas and Nasri before that, Arsenal were at a critical point, whereby if they lost Walcott on a free transfer, then they would cement their position as a feeder club.
They simply couldn’t afford to haggle around with his demands, as Arsenal were dangerously close to drifting into mediocrity, a la Liverpool. Although Walcott was a performing well, and by all means deserved his contract extension, Arsenal would’ve had to sign him up anyway to deliver the message that they were by no means a feeder club.
In addition, Walcott’s importance to Arsenal stretched beyond the contract negotiations and onto the field. He was able to offer Arsenal something different: pure pace. Earlier in Walcott’s career, Arsenal played with multiple playmakers on the field (ie Rosicky, Fabregas, Nasri, Hleb, etc), often leading to congestion in the middle of the park. This led to the side looking for an outlet in which to spring attacks from, aka Theo Walcott. Soon, Arsenal’s dependence on Walcott’s speed made him undroppable.
But a lot has changed since Walcott agreed his deal. Whereas once upon a time Arsenal were reliant on Walcott’s explosive pace and direct style, they now find themselves with a plethora of speed merchants in wide areas, who in addition to pace, offer other skills (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Sanchez, and even Gnabry).
Suddenly, Walcott goes from being untouchable to expendable. In fact his situation at Arsenal is not unlike Podolski’s. Both players are exceptional in one aspect, but mediocre in all others. Their deficiencies allow for more rounded players to take their spot. Indeed, Walcott’s Arsenal career could soon follow the same trajectory as Podolski.
I don’t believe that Walcott deserves a new deal. I think that although he has improved in his time at Arsenal, he is nowhere near Alexis’s level, let alone the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, Pires or Ljungberg. Theo was never a dribbler, never likely to beat a man with outrageous skill; he was also never going to be a Fabregas-type player, conjuring magical through passes to split the defense open.
Given that he hasn’t developed those deficiencies, has Walcott actually improved as a player? Not really. Contrary to popular belief, he hasn’t really improved his finishing, as he always had the poacher in him (see his goal against Chelsea in the Carling Cup final). But he was — and still is — an inconsistent finisher.
When Walcott is confident, he can score from every shot he takes, but when he isn’t in form, he could miss every single shot he takes. It’s a gamble, as you really don’t know if he’s going to curl it in or blast it over when he’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
In addition, Walcott is a sprinter first and foremost, and a footballer second. He runs and then thinks. This means that whilst Walcott is ridiculously quick, his mind is much slower. To compound matters, Walcott’s mediocre technical abilities make him look even worse. Of course, he has begun to develop the mental side of his game, but it’s taken so long for him to address his issues.
He has indeed begun to think about his runs, how to time them, what position he should be in, and what decisions to make at each moment in the game. These mental attributes in a player, the understanding of the game, are the difference between a mediocre player and a superstar.
An example is Xavi Hernandez. The little Spanish wizard was neither extremely physical nor pacey. Yet, he managed to impose himself on every game he played, as he had impeccable technique, understood the game perfectly, and made the right decision every single time.
Injuries certainly haven’t helped his cause. Since 2009, Walcott has had 7 injuries that kept him out for more than one month at a time, including one injury that kept him out for roughly 9 months (ACL tear)**. He has had injuries from his ankle to groin to chest to hamstring to shoulder and everything in between.
These types of injuries can severely stunt a player’s growth, and has done in Walcott’s case, as whenever he picks up some form, he gets injured. Also, for a player that relies so much on pace, what happens if Walcott gets an injury that effects that explosive speed? He’ll probably drift towards anonymity.
What does Arsene Wenger do? My advice would be to act as ruthless at Jose Mourinho — it’s hard to pay him a complement — and sell Walcott. But Wenger is a person with feelings, unlike Mourinho, and has become attached to Walcott, a boy he attempted to turn into a world-class player.
He sees Walcott as a long-term project; whereby admitting defeat will make him feel that he no longer has the ability to take raw players and turn them into superstars. Arsene is, after all, a very stubborn man. One more likely to keep trying than admit defeat, whatever the costs may be.
* stats provided by squawka
** stats provided by us.soccerway.com