Decision Time for Theo

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Two years ago I can remember sitting frustrated, worried, even slight angry, over whether Arsenal were going to cough up and give Theo Walcott a new contract.

The forward was in arguably the form of his career, typified by a hat-trick against Newcastle just days before his contract went into its final six months. He ended the season with 21 goals in 43 appearances.

At the time, Walcott was demanding £100,000-a-week. An amount that seemed justified when a glance over the Arsenal squad suggested a worrying lack of fire power. Robin van Persie had headed up north to Manchester United, while new boys Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski were still finding their feet.

The Gunners had to give Walcott the wage he desired. Doing otherwise would have been suicidal – and not just from a playing perspective.

Arsenal supporters were still angry from the summer departure of captain Van Persie and the supposed lack of investment in the squad. Arsène Wenger and the board were apparently being their usual tight-fisted selves.

Letting Walcott go for free would have not only severely weakened the attacking talent of the squad – but also caused anarchy among the fans.

But fast forward to the present day and the scenario is a different one.

Walcott is no longer the main man. He is no longer holding the cards at the negotiation tables. He is no longer a guaranteed starter for Arsenal.

A severe knee injury has obviously caused a change in fortunes for the 26-year-old. Prior to that he had been in brilliant form. He was a shoe-in for the World Cup. He was a shoe-in for a new contract with Arsenal.

Now though, that isn’t the case. Alexis Sánchez arrived in the summer from Barcelona. £35m was withdrawn from the Arsenal coffers and splashed on the Chilean, but it is undeniably money well spent.

The former Barca man has been electric – unplayable at times.

Mesut Özil has also made his way to the Emirates. Again the chequebook was brought out, this time so a record amount of £42.5m could be shelled out.

Despite what people say the German has been brilliant. He is third in the all-time minutes per assists standings for the Premier League.

But that argument is for another day. Another blog.

It is not just Özil and Sánchez’s arrivals that have changed the landscape though. Danny Welbeck has joined the ranks too. Energetic, full of pace and with an eye for goal – is he that much worse than Walcott?

And that is the question that now goes round in my head as I once again sit debating whether Arsenal should give Walcott a new contract.

Do Arsenal really need to go hell for leather to keep the England international.

According to reliable reports, Walcott wants a pay rise on his £100,000-a-week deal. The winger wants to be up around the levels of Özil and Sánchez.

Both of those two international stars are on £140,000-a-week. Is Walcott at their level? Does he warrant that wage?

In all honesty, no.

Of course, as I have stated, injury has dampened Walcott’s claims for a pay rise. How can he justify it when he has been on the treatment table?

But even so I would argue that his place in the squad has deteriorated to the level where Arsenal should no longer be worried about being held to ransom. They have the upper-hand now.

Let’s examine it from a purely squad basis perspective. In Walcott’s position of right wing – where he is at his best despite his calls to play upfront – we have the following options:

Alexis Sánchez. Danny Welbeck. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Serge Gnabry. Mesut Özil.

You could also throw a few other more off-beat players into the mix: Joel Campbell, Héctor Bellerín and Santi Cazorla.

Personally, on current form, I put Sánchez, Welbeck and Oxlade-Chamberlain above Walcott in the pecking order. Admittedly Sánchez usually plays out left, but he is more than capable of operating on the right – as he did so regularly for his previous club Barcelona.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is another who has come on leaps and bounds this season. He has improved no end and at just 21 there is plenty more to come. For me, he is more of a complete package than Walcott. Better in defence, possession and he is also much stronger.

What’s more, he’ll be wanting regular football now. He’s no longer an upcoming player but an established international.

So, where does it leave Walcott?

Last time in 2013 when his contract was running down, the winger also had the fans on his side. As I say, anarchy would have ensued if the club let him go. Would it this time?

I think not.

In fact, I’d argue some fans would actually applaud the club for accepting £20m bids for an injury prone player, with a year on his contact, whose form is erratic. I certainly would.

That money can be reinvested. There are plenty of players around Europe who could be brought in for that amount – not least on Walcott’s £100,000-a-week wages.

Memphis Depay at PSV? Andriy Yarmolenko at Dynamo Kiev? Pedro at Barcelona? There are certainly alternatives out there.

And this is it for me.

I think back to 2013 and when I was fuming at Arsenal for stalling on Walcott’s deal. ‘Give him the money and get it done,’ I thought.

Now though, the mood has changed. The scenario has changed. The ball is in your court this time Theo, Arsenal hold the cards.

Simon Collings is a Regular Columnist here at #ABW – check him out on Twitter at @sr_collings.  He is also part of a Premier League Podcast called All About the 3 Points which we definitely think you should check out.

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