Chelsea Preview: Dawn of the Theo-cracy

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The saga is over and Theo Walcott has signed a new contract with Arsenal Football Club.

It’s undoubtedly good news for Arsenal.  It stems the flow of talent away from the club, and shows a renewed willingness to flex our financial muscle.

It’s arguably even better news for Theo.  Having steadfastly refused to agree to the club’s initial offer of £75k p/week, he’ll now find himself picking up far more than that.  Depending on which red top you read, the weekly salary wages from between £90k to a mammoth £113k.  Either way, it seems he has escaped the binds of Arsene’s “socialist” pay structure, simultaneously superseding Lukas Podolski as the club’s highest paid player.

I never imagined that Theo Walcott would be the man for whom Arsenal would break their strict wage hierarchy.  Granted, he’s having a statistically outstanding season, but he remains far from perfect.  So many more talented players have sought the kind of sums Walcott was demanding, only to find themselves being shown the door to Barcelona or Manchester.

The truth is that Walcott is the lucky beneficiary of a perfect storm of circumstance.  Arsenal could not afford the PR disaster of losing another one of their perceived stars.  The club is also under more pressure than ever to show ambition in their expenditure.  Every time Walcott produced on the pitch, the likelihood of Arsenal caving to his demands increased significantly.

I’m still a little surprised he’s signed.  It’s rare that a player gets within six months of a Bosman move and is able to resist, and I went on record as saying that I didn’t think Arsenal and Theo would ever come to an agreement.  But Walcott knows that Arsenal is a set-up that suits him, and it’s not clear which (if any) elite clubs would be able to offer him the playing time he gets at the Emirates.

He enjoys playing with the likes of Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jack Wilshere.  At the risk of sounding jingoistic, I think the British core the club are building is important.  We are building a group of young players who seem eager to stick together and achieve something.  Keeping Walcott benefits the collective.

It’s now very much a case of “over to you, Theo”.  He’s got the money he wanted; now he has to justify it.  If he doesn’t, at least Arsenal can look to recoup a fee, rather than losing a valuable asset for nothing.

It’s “over to you, Arsene” too.  Having tied up the deal that was his priority for January, he now has a couple of weeks remaining to make an impact in the transfer market.  Talk of someone like Cavani is wildly unrealistic, although I still think it’s imperative that Arsenal bring in a striker.  If we select our first choice front three of Podolski, Giroud and Walcott, we would not have a single forward on the bench.  For a club of our size, that is unforgivable.

In a watershed week for Arsenal, I hope tomorrow’s game with Chelsea is a similarly significant landmark in our season.  It proved so last season, with a 5-3 victory restoring faith in a team that had spent the early months of the season on the ropes.  This fixture at Stamford Bridge could also be pivotal: if we could win there, then against West Ham in midweek, we’d find ourselves just two points behind a Chelsea side who had threatened to pull out of sight.  With Spurs facing of against United, this could be a critical week in the race for the Champions League.

If you fancy a flutter on tomorrow’s game, check out my betting preview for Unibet, complete with predicted line-ups and top tips.  You can get 8.5 on Theo to celebrate his new contract with the first goal…

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.