by Daniel Snowden

There has been much talk of contract renewals at Arsenal recently, with Robin Van Persie the name on everyone’s lips. His contract is up in the summer of 2013 and Arsenal need to persuade him to sign an extension before this summer or be left with the difficult decision of selling the team’s best player, or losing him for free in 2013.

However, there is another player in the same situation, with supporter opinion infinitely more divided: Theo Walcott.  The former boy wonder (still only 22) has yet to put pen to paper on a new deal and while his pace delights some, the inconsistency of his play infuriates others.

Yet if Arsenal are to get back on track then selling this once prized asset could be a mistake.  Looking at the raw numbers, he has got eight goals from 32 starts and four sub appearances (prior to the Milan second leg) and in addition he has another eight assists in the premier league, most of which are for the main man. That’s not a bad
return for a winger/forward, and certainly worth at least a place in the squad.

On top of this, there is also the fact he is English.  Now, while Wenger is more concerned with ability over passports, UEFA and the FA have a slightly different opinion, with the rules over home-grown players leading to an “English Premium” being applied. This manifests itself not just in transfer fees but also wages and even if Arsenal can sell Theo and get a replacement in for similar money, that replacement needs to be English to help stop Arsenal falling foul of these new rules.

In addition, although Theo can sometimes drift in and out of games, he is not really a player to shirk responsibility. The groans from the Emirates crowd show his inconsistent form (those saying he is getting booed are well wide of the mark) but also the fact is he is getting on the ball, putting the effort in and at least trying to move forward. He has also vastly improved his defensive game and rarely leaves the machine that is Bacary Sagna exposed, with his tracking back equal to other attacking players in the league

When he comes up against a well organised, deep lying defence his usefulness is nullified.

But as alluded to above, Theo is far from the finished article and he can drive supporters nuts.  This is a player who believes he can play through the middle as a proper striker, yet every time he has been given the opportunity to do this, he has blown it.  His usefulness is also directly impacted upon by the tactics of the opposing defence. If they chose to play a high line, as Chelsea did in the 5-3 defeat at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, then Theo will get in behind the defence and punish them. He is also useful when the opposition is chasing the game and is forced to push up, once again leaving space for Walcott to use his pace in.  If these kinds of tactics are not used though then Theo cannot exploit his greatest asset, his lighting quick pace.

This is a major problem for Walcott, as he does not really have the close control or tricks required to get past an opposing full back and when he comes up against a well organised, deep lying defence then his usefulness is nullified.  This sort of defence is being deployed against Arsenal more and more, with the loss of Fabregras making it hard for Arsenal to pick their way through the middle and a deep defence stops Walcott. So, for Walcott to justify the higher wages he is apparently seeking, some additional work on the training ground would not go amiss so that he can offer more to the team than just his pace.

Although that might take a while to come through, I believe that Walcott is a player well worth retaining, with his direct running and astonish pace vital.  If Arsenal can just get a player in who enjoys playing in front of the defence, such as Eden Hazard or the player they missed out on last summer, Juan Mata, then the presence of Walcott on the pitch should pose a quandary to those charged with keeping a clean sheet.