Last night Arsene Wenger urged Theo Walcott to sign a new Arsenal contract to show his loyalty to the club.
Among other things, Wenger said: "I am happy to pay Theo the money he deserves. You feel as well, I bought Theo at 17 years of age and spent a lot of money for him, gave him big support as well. I believe he's happy here, he's always looked to me like he's an Arsenal man.
"You want the players to stay because they love where they are and they are committed to the club. That is the most important. What is important to keep the young players together is at some stage I stand up for them.
"When they are ready to produce you would like to say: 'OK let's stay together and win together, and give back to the club what the club has given to us.'
“My gut feeling is that he belongs to this club and I hope he will do it and sign for us. Once he has made up his mind it will be very quick."
Firstly, Walcott has repeatedly said his reluctance to sign a new contract is not about money, but his desire to play as a central striker. Whether you believe that or not is a matter of interpretation, cynicism and personal choice. Some will insist he is telling the truth; some will insist he is lying. Only Walcott knows.
That Walcott’s purported wish is being granted should be conviction enough, although one wonders if it is as much through the circumstance of his team-mates’ inability to score regularly. The player has to assess whether this is a temporary solution for Wenger, or a dawning reality that the England forward is best used through the middle.
Secondly, Wenger is being disingenuous with the statement that “he's always looked to me like he's an Arsenal man”, and the implication that – by default of spending money on him and taking him to Arsenal – Walcott is morally obliged to stay.
Walcott is not an Arsenal man – he supported Liverpool as a boy and was developed by Southampton. Arguably he has barely developed since then – only a few months ago the general wisdom was that he has the same technical and tactical limitations as he did aged 17.
Walcott is aware of his limitations. While a gifted player he does lack the technique and consistent crossing ability to be a top-class right-sided midfielder; he is blessed with pace and plays on instinct, and is surely more suited to the role of the speedy striker. Certainly more so than Gervinho, or Marouane Chamakh (shudder).
It may also be also that Wenger is a better judge of talent and potential than he is a coach of skills and tactical acumen. Arsenal’s successful youth policy under Wenger has revolved largely around poaching the best foreign (and occasionally British) talent at an early age. Even Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs aren’t strictly-speaking Arsenal developed – Wilshere came from Luton Town’s school, and Gibbs was at Wimbledon until they relocated to Milton Keynes.
ED is not entirely sure Wenger is too concerned about the accuracy of his statement on Walcott. It smacks of an attempt to psyche out the player and his agent, to use the recently-signed contracts of Walcott’s fellow British team-mates as emotional leverage to draw his commitment.
Walcott is clearly happy at Arsenal, but is not happy with the rate of his development. Wenger is playing a risky game by effectively accusing him of greed, attempting to cover his back in the case of an exit. Arsenal fans are already strongly questioning his judgement in the transfer market and, while Walcott may not be universally adored, he is their most effective striker.
ED reckons Walcott will pen a new deal, but by going to the media Wenger is showing a lack of discretion that may harm his chances of signing others.
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COMING UP: Two Liga clashes of note tonight, which we will cover with live text and scoring. First up Valencia face Getafe at 7pm, followed by Atletico Madrid’s clash with Celta Vigo. There is also Serie A action, with Cagliari’s match with leaders Juventus at 7.45pm our focus for the evening.
- Sports & Recreation
- Arsene Wenger
- Theo Walcott