29 August 2012

Do Arsenal need Walcott?

Walcott (second-left) could join van Persie (far left) in leaving Arsenal.

The news that Theo Walcott has not signed a contract extension at Arsenal is an indication that the club now struggles to hold onto its star players.

The 23-year-old England winger wants to stay at the Emirates Stadium, but has turned down a new five-year deal worth £75,000 per week. As his current contract has less than 12 months to go, Arsenal find themselves in a situation where they either have to sell him now or lose him for nothing in the summer.

Sound familiar? Of course you can't forget that Robin van Persie publicly rejected an offer to stay at Arsenal beyond next summer and instead joined Manchester United for £24million. The exit door had only just been shut behind van Persie when Alex Song opened it again, as he made a £15million move to Barcelona.

The current situation with Walcott has attracted the attention of Liverpool and Manchester City, the latter of whom have plenty of Gunners alumni in their ranks. £12million might be enough to entice the England international away from the Emirates.

Arsenal have not won a trophy since 2005, and it is this drought which has lost them players of the calibre of Alexander Hleb, Kolo Touré (when he was better than his brother Yaya), Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas in the recent past. The fear among some Gooners is that, if Arsene Wenger fails to deliver another trophy this season, Thomas Vermaelen could become their third captain in successive seasons to desert them. And if Santi Cazorla as expected makes an amazing impact in his first season in North London, bigger clubs might seek to stop him from enjoying a second campaign there.

Manager Arsene Wenger will come under some flak for not opting to renew van Persie and Walcott's contracts sooner. It used to be that you could let a player's contract run until it was about six months from expiry, at which point you had to act and decide there and then whether to renew it or lose the player for nothing. Now, it's 12 months. I hold the opinion that contract lengths nowadays are meaningless, but that debate's for another day.

But maybe Wenger's being typically shrewd, and selling his best players when he feels he's got the best he can out of them. van Persie had only just turned 29 when he moved to United, and had come off a wonderful season in which he scored 30 Premier League goals. Yes, the other names I mentioned were all younger than him when they left, but Hleb and Touré didn't reach their peaks again at their new clubs, and Clichy hasn't massively improved at Manchester City.

Walcott joined Arsenal in 2006, when he was a fresh-faced 16-year-old wonderkid at Southampton. In the six and a half years since, he has scored 42 goals from 222 games, which on the face of it is not overly impressive for a winger.

Consistency is not one of his most prominent traits - he can score a hat-trick in one game and look totally out of place on a football pitch in the next. The same thing can be said of his England career. He has scored only four goals in 28 caps - those four coming in two outstanding performances against Croatia in 2008, when he bagged a hat-trick, and against Sweden at UEFA Euro 2012, when his long-range stunner and brilliant assist for Danny Welbeck turned the tie around.

A large group of Arsenal fans are unhappy with Walcott's performances for the club. I remember one Gooner contacting the You're On Sky Sports phone-in programme and saying that Walcott should retire from football and concentrate on being a sprinter. His pace is obvious, but many don't believe he has what it takes to be a world-class footballer.

If Wenger decided here and now to get shot of Walcott, and another club offered £12million for him, the Frenchman would more than likely take it. I would if I were in his shoes.

Were Arsenal to lose their roadrunner, they wouldn't really need to buy a replacement for him. As well as the very versatile Cazorla, they have other players in wide positions like Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who seems to have shown at 19 that he is not all pace and no substance.

There might even be room for a young 17-year-old forward called Serge Gnabry. The German, who is of Ivorian descent, has quickly risen through the youth and reserve set-ups at Arsenal with his excellent pace and technical skills. Could this kid be the long-term replacement for Walcott?

In summary, the situations with Walcott and van Persie show both positive and negative things about Arsenal's current situation. They might struggle to hang onto their biggest assets, yes - but they probably don't REALLY need them.

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