Arsenal’s 7-3 demolition of Newcastle United on Saturday saw contract rebel Theo Walcott deployed as the lone central striker for the third game in a row.
It’s no coincidence that the Gunners had also recorded three consecutive Premier League wins, something they hadn’t achieved all season and their fourth was as clear a demonstration as any that Arsenal need to keep Theo Walcott.
His on-going contract negotiations could see him leave imminently in January – he could even sign a pre-contract with a foreign club as soon as this week. His reported demands of £100,000 per week have reportedly been the stumbling block, forcing the standoff between the club and the player.
Arsenal are prepared to offer him £75,000 a week and are reluctant to break their wage-structure – currently their highest-paid player is Lukas Podolski, a 27-year-old German international with more than a hundred caps at senior level for his country.
However, Walcott’s hat-trick on Saturday not only earned him the match ball but, more crucially, earned him the opportunity to offer Arsenal an ultimatum – give me £100,000 a week and I’ll score goals for the club, if not, I’ll score them elsewhere.
Whether or not the 23-year-old is a ‘striker’ is still up for debate but I’m inclined to suggest any attacker that scores 14 goals in 20 appearances, of which 9 he came on as a substitute is worth keeping around.
Is he worth £100,000 a week? In the context of the modern game, where Manchester City pay former Gunners Samir Nasri £140,000 a week, Kolo Toure £120,000 a week, and 22-year-old Mario Balotelli £100,000 a week, yes, in that context Walcott is entitled to demand that sum.
But Arsenal’s integrity – not to be confused with their lack of funds due to sponsorship deals attached to the new stadium, which we now know have been revised – to not spend ‘silly money’ is being taken advantage of by the big-spending clubs. Manchester City and Chelsea have been capitalizing on their idealism for years now.
Andrei Arshavin is on £75,000 a week, Marouane Chamakh is on £60,000 a week, and Sebastian Squilacci is on £50,000 a week – in that context, yes, Walcott is worth it – it’s worth £100,000 a week to keep their top scorer.
The wages in the modern game, along with transfer fees, are undoubtedly inflated by the influx of mega-rich financial backers who will pay big sums for big names but it’s not an entirely new phenomenon – Manchester United have been breaking transfer records for more than a decade, a spending philosophy that has brought them unrivalled success.
If Arsenal want to have a slice of that cake, they’ll need to spend – one way or another and it’s more economically sensible to pay higher wages to you star players than it is to buy new stars or, harder yet, develop them yourself.
I applaud Arsenal’s philosophy and, under the proposed Financial Fair Play regulations, they would be far far ahead of the game. In the meantime, however, a compromise must be found.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald