Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insisted this week that Theo Walcott would not be sold in January, despite on-going contract negotiations that have amounted to nothing.
Whilst Wenger remains defiant, adamant that another one of his best players will not be making a dash for the Emirates exit, history leads me to question whether his statements are just rhetoric and, furthermore, good salesmanship.
Wenger was questioned by reporters this week whether the player would be sold in January if contract negotiations had not reached a conclusion.
“No. Will he stay until the end of the season? Yes.”
But a brisk walk down memory lane, back to July 2011, may hold some clues as to the future of Theo Walcott. Just over a year ago, the Arsenal boss was issuing the same responses with regard to former captain Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.
"Samir's situation is clear for me – he stays. We are in a position where we can say 'No' and we will, in the case of Samir."
Nasri was sold to rivals Manchester City on 24th August 2011, little over a month after Wenger had categorically stated he would not be sold. The £25 million that City paid Arsenal for the secural of the services of one of their best players came as little consolation to supporters who had been mostly concerned about losing their captain to his boyhood club Barcelona.
In the same interview Wenger remained positive that the Gunners would be able to convince the Spaniard to stay.
“Fábregas is in no-man's land. I don't think he's unhappy but he wants to go back to Barcelona. For us, it's not a question of money. It's a question of Cesc wanting to be with us. And I think he is torn because he loves the club deeply.”
He added this caveat which has come back to haunt him several times since its utterance:
“Imagine the worst situation, that we lose Fábregas and Nasri; you cannot convince people that you are ambitious after that."
The rest, as they say, is history. Fast-forward a year to this summer and Wenger was making more promises of keeping another captain and star player – this time Robin van Persie.
“Robin van Persie’s a world-class striker. He’s in demand and our desire is to keep Robin van Persie but, at the end of the day, we will do what is in the best interest of the club.”
The best interest of Arsenal Football Club was to sell their captain, best player, and PWA and PFA Player of the Year to one of their fiercest rivals Manchester United for £24 million and whilst Wenger claims Theo Walcott will not be sold in January, that would be in the best interest of the club – rather than lose him, as they would have done van Persie, for nothing at the end of the season.
Why would Wenger make these claims if he does not intend to back them up in his actions? Firstly, because when he makes these comments, he probably does intend to keep the player at all costs.
But, when push comes to shove, Ivan Gazidis and Stan Kroenke likely overrule him because it’s not in the clubs’ financial interest to lose players on free transfers, however valuable they are to the team, the manager, and the fans. They’re value to the club is infinite, but that doesn’t quite compute from a businessman’s perspective.
Secondly, Wenger probably knows the board will overrule him if a big enough offer comes in, but he also knows a big offer won’t come in if he drives down the price of the players by admitting Arsenal want to offload him before he runs down his contract. It’s business rhetoric – if they have to sell, they want the best price.
Actions speak louder than words and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it – Theo Walcott’s Arsenal career is probably coming to a close, regardless of Arsene Wenger’s desire to keep him.
image: © dyobmit