Arsenal FC: Why the Gunners Must Keep Theo Walcott at All Costs

Matthew Celentano@@Gunner_NYCFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Theo Walcott of Arsenal celebrates his second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on February 26, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Theo Walcott is somewhat of a controversial player for Arsenal—not controversial like Mario Balotelli or John Terry, but controversial in the sense that many fans haven't quite made up their mind about the English speedster.

Often causing a divide between Arsenal supporters, Walcott is frustratingly inconsistent. At his worst, Walcott is useless on the wings and struggles with the simplest of passes, crosses or shots. When he's on, however, Walcott is the best player on the pitch, exploiting gaps in the defense with his blistering pace, cuts and gut-busting runs. If you looked up the word "mercurial" in the dictionary, there'd surely be a picture of Theo Walcott.

But a large portion of Arsenal supporters are becoming fed up with Walcott's inconsistency. Many fans will be quick to criticize him when he fails to put a clear-cut goalscoring chance in the back of the net—but those same fans will praise him when he lights up the right wing. 

Take, for example, Arsenal's 5-2 win over Spurs. Theo Walcott was completely ineffective in the first half, offering nothing to the Gunners going forward and, if anything, breaking down their attacks. Arsenal supporters across the globe were yelling at their televisions in frustration, and with the scores locked 2-2 at halftime, many were calling for Walcott to be taken off.

But Arsene Wenger kept him on, and Walcott repaid his manager's loyalty by bagging an excellent brace that said everything about his ability—the goals were both examples of how excellently Walcott can run into space, get himself through on goal and finish. It was a performance that completely epitomized Theo Walcott as a footballer, all wrapped up in a nice 90-minute package.

So while Walcott's brilliant second half was a testimony to how explosive the 23-year-old can be, the first half can't be ignored. With his contract expiring at the end of next season, it's decision time for Arsene Wenger. Assuming Walcott would re-sign a contract that suits him, Wenger now has to decide whether to extend Walcott's contract, or cash in on the English international.

For me, the decision is easy. Arsene Wenger must extend Theo Walcott's contract at all costs, for a few reasons.

When Wenger first signed Walcott from Southampton, the 17-year-old was talent in its rawest form—a diamond in the rough. Six years later, many fans think that Walcott's short career peaked with that run against Liverpool in the Champions League, and that he's only produced moments of brilliance since.

Most people are aware of the fact that Walcott is naturally a striker and wants to play there eventually for Arsenal, and according to Walcott, he and Arsene Wenger have had discussions about the current right winger moving into a central role.

It would go completely against Arsene Wenger and his ways to let Walcott go because of his inconsistencies—the Frenchman is all about faith in his players, and developing them into more technically sound footballers. If there's any man that can turn Walcott into one of the deadliest strikers in England, it's Arsene Wenger.

With the blistering pace that Theo Walcott has, his potential to be a truly great center forward is all there—now it's just up to Arsene Wenger to do what he does best and develop him. The likely departure of Robin Van Persie should be used as an opportunity to mature Walcott as a center forward, to slowly but surely ease him into playing in front of, alongside or behind the likes of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski.

Walcott had his ups and downs this past season, but I definitely saw improvement in the 23-year-old's game. He went on a good run of form towards the end of the season, scoring against QPR, the Wolves, Aston Villa and of course, the Spurs.

He also had a reasonably good Euro 2012, playing the role of an impact sub for England to good extent—he played a huge part in England's 3-2 win over Sweden when he came on to score the equalizer and provide a brilliant assist for the winning goal.

Despite the criticism he received this season, Walcott still notched up 10 goals and 10 assists—very good numbers for a right winger. He could surely improve on those numbers in the 2012-13 season, especially if he played in the centre rather than on the right.

To sum things up, Theo Walcott is a player that Arsenal need to hang on to. Believe it or not, he's now one of the players who's been at the club for the longest, and Wenger must keep faith in him and continue to develop him. Everything is there for Theo Walcott to become one of the Premier League's most deadly strikers, and 2012-13 could very well be the season where he gets his chance.

Above all, Arsenal FC must look out first and foremost for themselves—and what goes hand in hand with that is the club's image. With the departures of Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and now, probably, Robin Van Persie, the Gunners are gaining the reputation of being a "selling club." Despite his inconsistencies, Theo Walcott is a key player for Arsenal, and selling him to a Premier League rival would only harm the club's image.

So for Arsenal FC, Arsene Wenger and Theo Walcott himself, the club must hang on to their speedy young forward