I’m convinced the game is up with Walcott. Asked about the dangers of keeping Theo in January, Arsene said:
“There’s a risk that we lose him for free – but it is a risk we are ready to take. A successful season is more important than this week; which is only a financial risk anyway … I believe that we started the season with this squad and we want to finish it with this squad.”
These are not the words of a man who expects news of a contract imminently. He didn’t even bother trotting out his “I always said I want to keep him” line – the same line reserved for Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie. Contained with the above quote is a tacit admission that December deadline will come and go without any progress on a new deal for Theo.
Theo has responded with the line about the fact that his last contract took “six or seven months” to sort out, so there’s no need to panic. It’s a line that would have more weight and relevance if his current negotiations hadn’t dragged on for more than 18 months. If you believe this story, Theo is already preparing to up sticks and go.
There is a distinction in class, however, between Theo and that trio. Football is a game governed by short memories. After the opening game of the season, the venerable Arseblogger said this of the young winger:
“Theo Walcott, however, stank the place out. His first touch of the game came early on, a pass was sprayed out wide to him on the right hand side and he clobbered it out for a Sunderland throw. It was a taste of things to come and knowing how much of his game is negated when teams sit deep I was staggered it took so long for him to be replaced.”
A few days later, when news of the possibility of his departure before the end of the window surfaced, he said:
“It has been very interesting to read the reaction online to the possibility of Walcott’s departure. For the most part, and I realise this is as unscientific as it gets, people seem pretty much ok with it, even if there is frustration at the timing of events … While not ignoring Walcott’s blinding pace, something every team needs, a player at this level needs more than that.”
The reason I cite these in particular is because here is a valued, respected commentator – someone who so often captures the sentiments of the fans – expressing how we felt at the time. That is a matter of weeks ago. Since then, Theo Walcott has started a further five games. That is the extent of his contribution since those opinions were valid: five full appearances. And yet suddenly the mood has transformed, and losing him would be widely perceived as a disaster. Worth bearing in mind before you curse all of the Gods about Theo’s more than likely departure.
Arsenal face a must-win game against Montpellier tonight, and must do so without the injured Walcott. It is something we should prepare to get used to.