For my first Arsenal match in August 2006, covered in the 10 am yell spit and spilled beers of fellow patrons at Nevada Smith’s in New York, I saw Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott come on as subs after Thierry Henry had done something or other phenomenal. My buddy Roland, who deserves all the blame for me being a Gunner, had filled me in on the Walcott World Cup call up fiasco and considered van Persie his favorite player. I was intrigued to see RvP play, and he pulled off an incredible shot on goal within minutes. Walcott did not. But then, he was still 16 at the time.
Van Persie now seems as if he’s been off for ages, though it’s only been a couple weeks and we will face him domestically for seasons to come. Alex Song’s deal transpired in seemingly days, though the recriminations linger on from his camp. And now 48 hours before the transfer deadline, Walcott looks to be off as well, unless he gets a substantial pay packet increase. We’ve offered a deal worth £75,000 a week, he’s currently on £60,000 a week, and he wants £100,000 a week. Arsenal do not believe he yet merits 100K, relative to the levels he has so far achieved (or failed to achieve) at the club in 222 first team appearances. We’ve got 48 hours to decide. If he doesn’t sign for us or someone else before the close of the transfer window, he leaves for free in June. We paid close to £10 million in 2006. Zero compensation doesn’t sit well with the accountants and 48 hours is neither much time to arrange a deal nor much time to arrange for a suitable replacement.
Walcott has shown “consistency in patches” (his words) and flashes of genius. Rare, yes, ephemeral, but still. The pain in the ass about the Theo contract non-extension is that no one would be broken up about the current version of the player leaving. He can sprint but otherwise he has a limited number of actual soccer-related tricks up his sleeve. Primarily the exit fear comes from the possibility that he’ll finally achieve his true potential in a different uniform. But currently, no, he doesn’t deserve what he’s demanding. He hopes to earn the highest wages at the club. It looks as if he won’t. But will we get an acceptable bid with next to no time remaining? Not looking promising, you’d have to say. Clearly, the timing of the refusal was engineered for Theo’s benefit alone. He will almost certainly leave and Arsenal will almost certainly get short-changed in the rush deal. At least RvP pitched his fake-pally public fit with enough time to deal with it.
This month, we’ve lost two of our best players to Manchester United and Barcelona, respectively. That makes two summers in a row, after two of the three best exited for Manchester City and Barcelona, respectively, last year. (We also sold Gaël Clichy to Manchester City, but no big deal there, since end-product-wise he mainly channeled ex-Gunner Alex Hleb, except Hleb could put in a better cross.) The summer before that, our for-one-season-only top scorer Emmanuel Adebayor pimped himself out to City. The summer before that, the stalwart (and alone of them all, non-money-grubbing) centerback Kolo Toure got free of William Gallas by heading to City. And before that, our all-time leading scorer Thierry Henry floated over to Barcelona. But at least we later suckered Barcelona with Hleb. Ha-ha.
When we want to see former players, whether in away fixtures or simply for social calls, luckily we can just visit two principal cities. Manchester and Barcelona. Early reports peg Walcott for City, naturally, since they’ve got more than enough money, despite the fact that they’ve got far better personnel in his position. But that, as they say, is not our problem. Perhaps someone just forgot to update the Arsenal to City multiple-use media template. The other main mooted destination, Liverpool, makes more sense, because their wingers need help. Chelsea’s name pops up, as well, but that seems unlikely. Why would they downgrade? Hazard, Oscar, Mata and … the headless sprinting chicken. But a clean-cut, very marketable because English-born, speedy headless chicken.
We can either go with the hysteria cue or take a more measured approach. Let’s do the latter.
In the past 14 months, we’ve lost two world class players, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas. The next level down, Samir Nasri. Another level down, Alex Song. Level down again, Walcott and Clichy.
In the meantime, we’ve strengthened with Santi Cazorla, who’s definitely world class. Next level down, Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Mikel Arteta. We’ve brought in future bright lights in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and possibly Ryo Miyaichi. Andre Santos, Per Mertesacker and Gervinho can each put in a solid shift on their day. And from the academy, Ignasi Miquel, Francis Coquelin, Nico Yennaris and Emmanuel Frimpong. Meanwhile, Kieran Gibbs is at least as good as Clichy, whose main strength was resistance to injury, so perhaps we’re even there. And one day, our young savior Jack Wilshere may reenter the mix matrix.
Much could happen in the next 48 hours, even though reinforcements may not be forthcoming. At the very least, one would hope the “exodus” will include the dead weight we’ve been trying to unload all summer: Nicklas Bendtner, Park Ju Yung, Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Denilson and so on.
Back to Theo. He has long divided opinion, but the contract rejection couldn’t come at a worse time, not least from an “Arsenal are a selling club” PR point of view. To avoid losing him on a free, we have a grand total of two days to move him on before the close of the transfer window. Deja vu in everyday life can sometimes be interesting, but in Arsenal transfer dealings it’s a horrible, horrible thing.