It isn’t entirely his fault, in fact most of it isn’t, but as the latest inquest into the dire situation at Arsenal begins, one of the biggest questions being asked is how is Theo Walcott still at the club. Arsene Wenger is once again feeling the wrath of the Gunners fans after they were knocked out of the FA Cup, a competition both he and the club have a great affiliation with, winning it only last May, by Championship strugglers Nottingham Forest.
Same old Arsenal, always frustrating under Arsene Wenger
There really isn’t much point in examining the 4-2 defeat at the City Ground on Sunday evening; the fans understand every issue is much deeper than one defeat, no matter how humiliating. Even the most loyal supporters will have to admit the story has been repeated for over a decade now and Wenger’s popularity is not just eroding, but his reputation is, too. His intelligence, tactical nous and revolutionary approach, which set the tone for the early years of his 22-year reign in North London, have been replaced by sheer stubbornness. As a result, the man who brought English football into the future is now unable to avoid looking like he’s stuck in the past.
For Arsenal fans, not signing players has been the big problem; while Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have always strived to solve all of the issues in their squads, Wenger has taken the evolutionary approach, completely opposite to what made him so great when he first arrived in the Premier League. Some players have slipped through the net; equally as important, though, has been the negligence shown in terms of getting players out to make room for any improvements. Wenger has always put his faith in young players, but while others with a similar approach always knew when to be ruthless, such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola, he seems to be lacking in that regard; Walcott has seen a once promising career at the Emirates Stadium go stale, and he is not the only one.
Walcott should have gone some time ago
Big money signings have never been his preferred method in the transfer market; the spine of his great teams, including the 2004 Premier League ‘Invincibles’, were developed under his wing, learning and growing together. Walcott has been given the same opportunities as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and so many others, but without ever showing the same level of potential. It didn’t take those now legendary figures any time at all to show they had the quality, and winning mentality, to bring success. Now entering his twelfth year at the club, there is an argument to say Walcott never has. Why, then, has he been given so long at the club, overstaying his welcome in the eyes of the fans?
The fact Wenger has not altered the way he works, despite evidence clear to the majority that he needs to, has not helped the atmosphere within the squad. They now accept failure from themselves and each other, with no consequences coming from the dugout. In fact, negativity seeps from the boardroom; Wenger seems to be able to decide on his own future, just like Ferguson at Manchester United, despite not matching any of the Scot’s success at Old Trafford for over a decade.
While Walcott was rewarded with a new contract at the club in 2015, making him one of their highest earners despite rarely showing the consistency to merit it, the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Özil, the two most likely match winners at the club over the past four or five years, have seen their deals run down. The same stubbornness, or perhaps apathy, from Wenger has allowed the club to lose control of both situations. Renewing their contracts at the same time as, or instead of, Walcott’s, would have been much easier because the team was going places then and, more importantly, the players didn’t have the leverage of only six months remaining on their existing deals. It has been impossible for Arsenal to negotiate with either player for a while now, and it is their last chance to regain some of their investment on them this month.
Of course, it is extremely harsh, and very unfair, to suggest someone like Wenger does not care anymore. He is a principled man, one who has turned down many opportunities elsewhere; but those principles are killing his team and his tenure at the club. Walcott, now 28 and reaching a crossroads in his career, was signed as a 16-year-old from Southampton in 2006 and billed as a future heir to Henry, then still very much the king of North London. Since then, he has played 269 league games for the Gunners, scoring just 65 goals; his position has never really been clear either, with his desire to play up front never coming into fruition. He has since accepted his role as a winger, but even now, his end product is yet to fully convince.
Perhaps due to injury, or maybe something more telling, Walcott has only played five Premier League games this season for Arsenal. He is cutting an extremely frustrated figure, with the World Cup in Russia next summer still very much in his mind; but even his oldest supporter doesn’t seem to have his back anymore. A January move is likely, with Southampton, currently 17th in the table, said to be keen on a return. There hasn’t been much interest reported from elsewhere, though.
Theo Walcott’s career has been one filled with curiosity. Many jumped on his talent as a teenager, notably Sven-Goran Eriksson, then England manager, who took him to the 2006 World Cup in Germany before he’d even kicked a ball for Arsenal. For all his hard work, he has never really kicked on in the way everyone thought and, looking back, he has served as the best reminder of Arsene Wenger’s own personal stagnation.