When Theo Walcott joined Arsenal in 2006 as a ripening starlet with the world as his proverbial oyster, he was widely touted as the brightest prospect in English football for his generation. The same plaudits and hopes that were ceremoniously bestowed upon the acne-ridden heads of Owen and Rooney were also imparted upon the young man who began his career in the Southampton youth setup.
It was expected that his development would be as rapid as the aforementioned superstars too but, since his arrival at the Emirates, his performances have flattered to deceive, only rarely endearing the 23 year old to the Arsenal faithful.
That being said, last season Walcott still managed to squeeze out decent statistics within veins of inconsistency: for those of you unaware of just how important he was to the North London club, he managed to score 12 times and set up another 13 for his teammates in all competitions making him only bettered in terms of productivity by Robin Van Persie.
On Tuesday, it was widely reported that Arsenal and the player were struggling to negotiate the terms of a new deal at the club with Walcott wanting close to £100,000-a-week wages but Arsenal only willing to offer £75,000. He has now been given an ultimatum: sign within 48 hours or he will be sold…supposedly.
Tonight, word has broken of a verbal agreement between the player and Wenger that he will stay beyond the transfer window and hope to agree a deal later on, but will Arsenal really risk losing such a saleable asset on a free transfer? After all they cashed in on Robin van Persie despite their initial resistance.
There have also been suggestions that Arsenal’s continual vending of key members of the squad displays a lack of ambition that isn’t sitting well with the wide man. Whatever the true reasons are, the situation has alerted the predatory attentions of champions Manchester City and Liverpool who seem to both be keen on signing the England international. The question is if he is sold, at which club will Walcott best fit in?
How much improvement can you really make to a team with an enviable superfluity of world-classed options? Perhaps – and this is still a big ‘perhaps’ – if there was one aspect that City lacks at the moment, it’s players with unnerving speed; for all their technical ability, City are not amongst the faster breakers in the Premiership – possibly because they spend so much time on the front foot that this plan of attack has been rendered largely redundant. Walcott would definitely add scary pace – a valuable trait during tricky away ties or difficult situations.
Walcott’s distribution has always been questionable. Quite frankly, the toss of a coin is more predictable than what you will get from him whilst he plays on the wings. If Walcott can, somehow, establish a comfortable technique of crossing that delivers 9 times out of 10, then he could prove extremely valuable – particularly to the larger frontmen like Dzeko and Balotelli who will be able to challenge in the air if the supply is right.
Other than that, the young man may have to acclimatise himself to the position left abandoned by Adam Johnson on the bench. Walcott’s playing time at Arsenal diminished with every passing season – it could be practically non-existent amongst Mancini’s squad. This wouldn’t bode well for his England prospects – just ask Johnson, Richards or even Shaun Wright-Phillips – but if it’s trophies and accolades that he seeks, then he will be at a team capable of pretty much guaranteeing him at least one every year.
Like City, Liverpool have also lacked the quickness of previous teams that have graced the hallowed Anfield turf. They have recaptured some of it with the swift emergence of 17 year old, Raheem Sterling, but that only solves the problem on one side. To avoid a potential imbalance, Walcott could fit in perfectly either side of a front three meaning that he will get that forward role he so often longs for and Liverpool won’t have to put up with diabolical crossing from him.
Word is that he is also a lifelong Liverpool fan: all the way back, when he was still at The Saints, he expressed his devotion to the Liverpool team, his admiration for various players and his memory of that fateful night in Istanbul in a candid interview with the Official Liverpool FC website. Good on ya, mate! Liverpool will be hoping, given this signing happens, that he will come into the club hungry and determined to give his all for the club he loves and, in turn, the Liverpool fans will indubitably voice their appreciation for him.
Still, Liverpool have a rapidly expanding and improving squad that looks to be exchanging the mediocre with the mesmeric. Whilst Walcott can expect vastly more game time than he will get with his Mancunian suitors, it will still be unlikely that he will be employed for every minute of every game at Liverpool.
Where Should Theo Walcott Head To – Manchester City or Liverpool - Or should he sign a new deal?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald