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Arsenal’s failed ultimatum to Theo Walcott could cost them dearly

Theo Walcott is recovering from a virus. Photo: Nick Potts/PA wire Theo Walcott is recovering from a virus. Photo: Nick Potts/PA wire

Wednesday, September 5, 2012
3:59 PM

England star can talk to clubs in January, and leave for free in June. Just how did Gunners let this happen?

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The transfer window has closed and Theo Walcott is still an Arsenal player. This should be good news, but he didn’t look very happy sitting on the bench at Anfield on Sunday, and it’s fair to say quite a few people at Arsenal are not happy with him either.

This time last week the word ‘ultimatum’ was being bandied about. ‘Sign or go’ was said to be the message from the Emirates board. But Walcott has neither signed, nor gone. So where does that leave Arsenal?

Potentially out of pocket would seem to be the answer. By the time the next window opens in January, Walcott will be free to talk to other clubs. In June he can leave for nothing.

Will that happen? By not forcing through a move last week, it seems the Arsenal board believe it will not. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise.

Arsene Wenger was forthright about the subject last week, but you feel this is another battle that Arsenal have lost over the negotiating table, just as they did with potential new deals for Mathieu Flamini, Samir Nasri and of course Robin van Persie.

“Theo is focused to do well,” said Wenger. “Whatever happens at the end of the season happens at the end of the season. He loves the club. Maybe we can find an agreement.

“Theo is 23. He is English, he lives 10 minutes from [the training ground], so hopefully we can find an agreement at some stage. He is not obsessed with money. There are still little differences in the negotiations.”

Those ‘little differences’, regardless of what Wenger says, are surely the number of zeroes on the end of his pay packet. Either that or Walcott has already made up his mind that he will leave for free next June.

“He did not accept our offer so nothing is happening,” said Gunners chairman Peter Hill-Wood earlier this week. It was suggested that Arsenal left the negotiations too late, and that Walcott’s advisers decided they were not ready to make the decision.

That is entirely possible, because what is angering Walcott and what has led to this impasse is that Arsenal clearly do not rate him quite as highly as he rates himself.

Much like with Van Persie, last season was the first time Walcott had stayed fit and delivered on the pitch on a regular basis. But Walcott’s form was nothing like as stellar, or as consistent, as that of the Dutchman.

Van Persie’s departure has also played a part. Walcott had a good understanding with his captain both on and off the pitch, so the sight of the club’s – and the country’s - best player disappearing to Manchester United may have been as upsetting for him as it was for most Arsenal fans.

Arsenal would have broken their wage ceiling for Van Persie, even if they could not go near the amount he is now earning at Old Trafford. But they will not do the same for Walcott.

Should they? In six and a half years at the club, Walcott has certainly progressed from a callow teenager into a more productive player, but he is still far from the finished article.

He is also far from being a direct first-choice again this season, having sat on the bench for the last two games with every chance he will remain there given the form of some of the new arrivals.

“He is developing very well,” countered Wenger . “He is intelligent, a good finisher. I would be happy if he settles and stays.”

Last season was Walcott’s best, with 11 goals and as many assists and steering clear of injury to figure in 34 of Arsenal’s 38 Premier League games.

In February his pace and his finishing ripped Spurs apart in memorable style in a 5-2 win, but he is still painfully inconsistent.

Wenger, and Arsenal, have invested a lot of time and a lot of money in Walcott. If at all possible, they would like a tangible return on one or both, either in the form of another good season this year, or a sizeable transfer fee.

There is always the possibility that he hits form and signs a new deal to stay but if he has not done so by January, then Arsenal will have one last chance to cash in on him or lose a player who cost £10.5m for nothing, probably to Premier League rivals.

After the carefree defection of Van Persie, Wenger may feel he deserves a little loyalty. But he won’t be holding his breath.

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