Theo Walcott is ready to start contract negotiations with Arsenal, in the next two weeks. Or at least that is what the Mirror is reporting. According to the Mirror Walcott is ready to negotiate a contract that is structured in a way that guarantees him playing time, rather than holding out for a mega-contract.
Three seasons ago, when Arsenal and Walcott last negotiated, the talks between the two sides went right up to 6-months before Walcott’s contract expired. During those negotiations Walcott was looking to be the highest paid player on the team and Arsenal were looking to prevent another star player from leaving the club.
Both parties were in completely different situations. Walcott at that time was one of Arsenal’s key players and top scorers, he scored 21 goals that season. Arsenal on the other hand, did not have the financial capabilities that they do now, nor did they have the same caliber of players as they do now. The addition of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s accelerated development, has given Arsene Wenger a wealth of players he didn’t have in 2013, nor did Walcott have to compete with those players.
Now Walcott does not have the same leverage that he did previously an Arsenal can afford to lose a player of his quality. That does not mean that they want.
Arsenal’s strength is in the depth of attacking players that they have. Arseblog rightly pointed out that Arsenal have 11 players in the first team, who can play in the same position as Walcott. Theo would likely start over maybe 4 or 5 of them. But injuries have plagued Arsenal for the past decade, including this season as we all know, and having depth is necessary to combat the affliction of injuries Arsenal face every year. Walcott’s presence in the squad is necessary.
Concurrently, this information is likely to have been leaked from the Walcott camp and not from Arsenal. If Arsenal had said this, it may show a bit of desperation, giving Walcott a little leverage.
Additionally, about month ago, Wenger and Walcott contradicted each other over reports of negotiations had started. Wenger affirmed this and Walcott flat out denied it. Since then news regarding a new deal has been nonexistent. Walcott’s camp is likely trying to generate news to keep Walcott relevant, considering he hardly plays.
Second, these comments indicate that Walcott wants to stay at the club, that he realizes he won’t likely have it better anywhere else, and that maybe he understands that he currently does not deserve to be the first choice in his position. It also shows that he has no leverage now because Arsenal are in a strength of position with the players they have at their disposal and that holding out is not going to benefit him.
Either way, the report contains no quotes and the reported timing of the negotiations is off. It’s likely that negotiations will start at the end of the season, something that seemed to have been agreed upon a month ago. Walcott is smart enough to know that if he waits till the end of the year, he will have more time to prove himself worthy of a good deal guaranteeing playing time. He still has a large role to play this season and at some point will make an important impact.
Arsenal in the meantime will not want to rush into a new deal that is not beneficial to them. They don’t need to overpay Walcott to stay, they have enough players in that position and they can afford to replace him. A deal that is structured around guaranteed playing time could be beneficial to both club and player if it means that Walcott’s wages match his contributions. Such a deal would not be a pay as you play agreement, nor should it be.
I still believe that a deal will get done. Walcott is intelligent and knows that what he has at Arsenal is hard to come by. If he is having trouble getting games at Arsenal, there isn’t any reason to believe that he would be a first team choice at any other big club in Europe. Leaving Arsenal has historically had a negative effect on outgoing Arsenal player’s careers. Think of Aleksander Hleb, Alex Song, and Nicholas Anelka (to an extent and considering how highly he was regarded before his departure).
Having been injured for a year, it’s impossible to expect Walcott to hit peak form this season and contribute the way he has done in the past. Walcott must understand that and he must understand that he doesn’t deserve playing time right now. He must realize that what would benefit him the most is a full preseason.
Additionally, Arsenal know what Walcott can bring, and they are also aware that a full preseason is likely to bring the best out of Walcott. He is the only player in the squad who makes effective runs behind the oppositions back four. He is most dangerous without the ball at his feet, and teams acknowledge this by the way the play off him of him. He may be the best finisher on the team when he is match fit and sharp.
The competition for places at Arsenal is good, Wenger believes that and it’s proven to be true this season. Walcott has never been a player who has shined away from challenges, it seems that he relishes them in fact. His entire career has been a challenge considering his rapid ascent at the age of 16 when he moved to Arsenal in an eight figure deal.
He was called up to the World Cup in 2006 for whatever ludicrous reason at the age of 16 and was challenged with being in the spot light for reasons out of his control. His been criticized for not performing and responded to that with seasons where he assisted and scored in double figures.
He was left out of the 2010 World Cup for whatever ludicrous reason (one that Fabio Capello admitted that he regretted) and responded to that by having two highly successful seasons with Arsenal from an individual standpoint, right up until he tore his ACL during a match against Tottenham in the FA Cup. His performance during that match was described by Wenger as one of the best he had seen by an Arsenal player. His gesture to Tottenham fans while being carried off the pitch that day, cemented his place as an Arsenal legend, and if he were ever to get a statue, that would be it.
Walcott’s career has been under a microscope since the age of 16, challenging him to perform on and off the field. He has handled this challenge very well. Recovering from his injury and rediscovering his form is just another challenge for Walcott. A new deal will be the result and consequence of overcoming that challenge.
A new deal is beneficial for both player and club, as long as the deal does not favor one over the other.