At last, the long-running transfer saga has come to an end – Theo Walcott has officially put pen to paper on a new contract with the club. A very happy ending for everyone involved with Arsenal.
Of course, with football fans being as they are, the immediate thought is one of crisis – is he really that good? Is he worth the money he’s being paid? No, of course he isn’t. I won’t bother going into the whole issue that no footballers are actually worth the absurd amounts they make; I accept that in the football world, Walcott is not someone you’d put into the category of player who deserves to be on such a big contract.
Sadly, that was always going to be what it took to keep him – and at this time keeping him was absolutely vital for Arsenal Football Club.
Over the last few years we’ve seen better players leave, and I can’t imagine anything will ever hurt more than the sale of star player, top scorer and club captain Robin van Persie leaving for Manchester United last summer. We hadn’t dealt with his contract, and in the end we really couldn’t be picky about who we sold him to. A very good offer came from one of our most hated rivals and although if I were in charge I probably would’ve kept van Persie for another year and let him go to Old Trafford on a free if he wanted, you can see where the club was coming from on this one. Around £24million for an injury-prone 29-year-old is good business, even if it’s absolutely heart-breaking for the fans.
To allow something similar to happen just a year later would be catastrophic. Once again we’d be talking about Arsenal as a team that develops players for years, putting up with inconsistent performances from young players still learning the game, only to sell them or lose them for free just as they’re getting good – all for the benefit of their nearest rivals. Many Premier League clubs were interested in Walcott and I imagine he would have chosen to stay in England rather than go abroad. He was a Liverpool fan as a kid, so might well have been tempted by a move to Anfield. Either that, or the easier option of staying in London and upgrading to Chelsea, a team looking more like winning things than we are. All our patience and good work with the former Southampton youngster will have been for the teams challenging us to reap the benefits of. At a time when club morale, particularly with the fans, is so low, this just wasn’t an option.
Aside from that, isn’t it just possible that if we’re willing to offer a player like Walcott over £100,000 a week, then perhaps we’re finally in a situation where we can afford to bring in better players? There are probably many we’ve tried to sign who have been put off by our frugal approach, but now we have shown we’re serious about paying the money that big players want in order to have them at the club. Walcott himself might not be worth it, but it sets a new precedent; offering that kind of money to players will no longer feel too alien to Wenger and Gazidis. Hopefully it will show them we can do it without going bankrupt.
Finally, to be extremely cynical – if Walcott returns to being the frustrating and unreliable player that he was for all the years prior to this one, then at least we can sell him on our terms. For the next three years he’s ours, so clubs will have to offer proper money if they want him. You might ask, why would they want him if he becomes crap again? Plenty of reasons – he’s young, English and that translates to selling a great deal of shirts. He’s a popular and marketable player, and would be a boost to quite a few Premier League clubs even if he is a bit of an over-rated speed merchant.
Anyway, I have high hopes based on his form this season that he’s becoming far more than that. He’s finally playing upfront and justifying his demands to do so. He’s had some outstanding games, scoring more goals than ever and he’s still pretty good at providing assists as well. He also complements Olivier Giroud nicely if we ever go back to 4-4-2, which I’m sure we all agree would be a good idea. Remember, he’s still only 23 and his peak years are still ahead of him. The hope now is that we can bring in better players for him to play with, because for all his qualities he’s not exactly the type who can win games on his own. Even if there are shades of Thierry Henry there, Henry had Bergkamp and Pires to set up his goals.
Wenger said that getting Theo signed up was his main objective for January. Let’s just hope now that it’s done there’s more to come in this transfer window.
Follow me on Twitter @markbrus------------
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