Back in January of 2006, Arsenal singed a 16 year old Theo Walcott from Southampton. The quick winger came in for £5m up front with instalments that have raised the fee to £12m. Since then, he has made 302 appearances for Arsenal, scored 76 goals, and won two FA Cups, including scoring in the FA Cup final this year.
At the moment, Walcott is at a crossroads in his Arsenal career. With only 12 months left on his contract, the club are deciding whether to negotiate a renewal for the England man or sell him on. Contract negotiations with Theo never seem to be an easy process, as the negotiations of his last deal showed. Yet Arsenal should do what they can to keep the England striker, because he could be a big part in an Arsenal squad that challenges for the title.
Theo Walcott is one of many players at Arsenal that splits opinion. He’s not a typical Arsenal player. He’s not the most gifted technically and he doesn’t get too involved in build up play. His biggest strength is his ability to stretch and get in behind opponents defences. While he was once criticised for not having a footballing brain, Walcott is one of the best around at making runs to get in behind, and his movement to do so is superb. While Arsenal have lots of quick wide players now, he does provide a dimension that the others don’t. While Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, and even Serge Gnabry are quick, they are all players that prefer the ball to be played short into feet. The 26 year old is one of the few people in the Arsenal squad that always want the ball played into space. This stretches defences and gives Arsenal’s other players more space to play in.
Another factor that isn’t really tangible is the fear factor that Theo brings. Other Arsenal players, specifically Alexis Sanchez, have a fear factor, but in a different way. Defenders hate going up against pace and they hate when people try to get in behind them. So, Walcott scares defences out of their skin. This was on display at the FA Cup final. He sat on the shoulder, and that terrified a slow Villa defence. Even when he was offside he scared the defence into dropping off, which hurt Villa’s ability to press. His ability to stretch and scare defences either at right wing or even at striker could be invaluable for the Gunners next season.
The final, most tangible, and arguably most important reason to keep him, is that he is just really effective. While he may not be the most involved in the build up, and he may not do as much defensive work as people may like him to, he is always involved in goals.
Over the last three seasons, Walcott has either scored or assisted on a goal every 95 minutes in the Premier League. Essentially, he’s good for a goal a game, whether he’s scoring it or assisting it.
Arsenal are in for a big summer. There will likely be more players leaving than players coming in. This summer is all about keeping quality and getting rid of players that aren’t needed. Theo Walcott can play a role in this squad and has too much quality to let go without a serious fight. After Walcott held the club over a barrel the last time the two sides negotiated, Arsenal have the power this time. They don’t have to keep the Englishman, but it would be in their best interest if they did.