Theo Walcott Situation Highlights the Problem at Arsenal, Part I

H Andel@Gol Iath @gol_iathAnalyst IIIAugust 30, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: Theo Walcott of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between  Arsenal and Sunderland at Emirates Stadium on August 18, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The good feeling that overhung the atmosphere at Arsenal early in the summer dissipated rather quickly when Robin van Persie punctured it by his statement to the fans that he would not be extending his contract.

Arsenal had acted decisively by signing Lukas Podolski from Cologne and Olivier Giroud from Montpellier early in the transfer window. All seemed to agree that this was a demonstration of intent.

And, as though to discredit to Van Persie's claim to lack of direction from the club, the management quickly added Santi Cazorla from Malaga to the list of new signings.

At that point, one would have thought Van Persie would rescind on his decision, if indeed his hesitation to sign a new contract was being informed by the club's "lack of ambition," something that decidedly no longer was the case, in view of these three signings, players of sufficient enough quality to constitute ambition.

Lukas Podolski: one of Arsenal's early summer signings. Getty Images.

As time elapsed, it seemed possible that Van Persie would change his mind, especially as no myriad of suitors circled his door. 

Roberto Mancini was being denied his customary unlimited funds; Juventus were suddenly no longer so attractive in view of the match-fixing scandal their manager had found himself in; Barcelona displayed indifference, and no rumor of interest emanated from Real Madrid

The only viable suitor that was left was Manchester United. Surely, I suppose every Gunners fan must have thought Arsenal would not sell to their fiercest rival.

But after a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson to Arsene Wenger—perhaps promising that he wouldn't play Van Persie against Arsenal this season?—and an offer of £250,000 a month to the player and a transfer fee of £24 million to Arsenal, the club seemed to have no other choice but to sell, and sell they did.

This was tolerable enough, bar the fact that Arsenal had been forced to sell another star to a rival.

But that changed very quickly, as just about three days later, the club sold another top player in a baffling situation, since there appeared to be no cogent reason (at least to the outside observer) why they should have done so.

Suddenly, a team that appeared poised and deep enough to challenge for trophies this season was looking again like its normal flaky self.

The gloom had returned to the Grove and has threatened to overrun everything since, in the face of Arsenal's duo of goalless draws in this early dawn of the season.

Those fans whose idea of support is to arm themselves with pits and cudgel already are out in force looking to scapegoat someone, and, as is their wont, have begun to hurl around those baseless rumors and insinuation that are habitual with them.

Their case has only become stronger in the light of Theo Walcott's refusal to extend his contract. The bone of contention is, of course, money, with the player asking for £100,000 per week and the club willing to pay only £75,000 a week (per the Guardian).

And what is the complexion of these rumors?

Arsenal are a selling club.

Wenger is the blight at Arsenal that must be purged.

The board and the owners are there only to enrich themselves.

Arsenal are not ambitious enough; they're just a feeder club.

Arsenal simply delight to store away money instead of using the same to better the club's lot.

But are these insinuations true? Let's examine them in turn.

Theo Walcott: His refusal to extend his contract just yet has exacerbated the feeling of gloom at Arsenal. Getty Images.

Selling Club

An article in The Sun exemplifies the pitch of this complaint. The paper publishes a lineup picture of Arsenal taken before a Champions League match with Villareal in 2009.  Of the lineup on that day, only three players are still at the club.

They quote a former Gunner, Frank McLintock, who played for Arsenal in the 1970s as saying: "The photo sums it up perfectly. There’s only three players left after only three years."

McLintock adds that: 

You can’t keep changing your team every year and that’s what has been happening. It’s almost as though there has been a crisis every time the transfer window opens and I don’t think it’s fair to the supporters.We’ve always been two or three players from really challenging for the title but you can’t be changing most of your team every two years.

On the face of it, the complaint and concern are legitimate. The fact, insofar as selling players every season is concerned, is accurate. And here's where most complainants stop.

For the tag, "a selling club," to stick or be accurate, the complainant must penetrate beyond the surface of the issue, beyond the mere picture of it, to the reason behind the sales.

Let's, for example, examine The Sun, photo.

The photo that supposedly damns Arsenal as a selling club. Courtesy of The Sun.

Of the list of sold players—Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Alex Song, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Emmanuel Eboue—only one player's sale does not make sense: that of Alex Song. Mainly because he has been sold in a situation where it didn't appear there was any reason to do so.

However, the fact that this doesn't make sense to me as a person may not mean that there was no reason behind it. As a supporter of the club, this is the caveat I must be mindful of, no matter that, for all intents and purposes, the sale appears out of character. 

It is this very fact, though, that must caution any rash assumption.

Anyone who has been in a leadership position before knows that circumstances often constrain certain decisions, which, to an outsider, qualify as perfect nonsense, but the fact that they appear nonsensical from the outside does not means that they actually are nonsensical from the inside.

Releasing Players

Of the rest of the players on the list, two make perfect sense: the release of Mikael Silvestre and the sale of Emmanuel Eboue.

At some point, players have to be let go. And this is true of even the most prodigious of players. Were Thierry Henry still around, he would either retire or be let go at some point.

Manchester United, for example, just released Michael Owen, a one-time prodigious player. Eboue was sold because he was at the twilight of his career. Could he have been kept as a squad player? Probably. Did  Wenger need to keep him? No.

Even now, there are players whom Arsenal fans would love to see let go. At one time or another, these players must have produced praise-worthy performances for Arsenal. Name them: Sébastien Squillaci, Marouane Chamakh, Park Chu-Young, Andrei Arshavin, Nicklas Bendtner, etc.

If let go, or when let go, should we then indict Wenger for doing so? Would this constitute a selling club (or as the case may be a "letting-go" club)? By no means.

Selling Players

This leaves Nasri, Song, Van Persie, Toure, Adebayor and Fabregas. These players have indeed been sold by Arsenal. But under what circumstance?

The advent of Roman Abramovich at Chelsea in 2003 constituted a sudden rise for a club that had wallowed in the depths of mediocrity for years.

In just two years, the club's new manager, Jose Mourinho, splashed more money on transfers than Wenger had done in his entire decade at Arsenal.

If there was a jolt in the playing field, this was the first wave. The rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United was no longer the default situation. A new boy had arrived in town and it was Abramovich and his train.

In 2006, the first of Arsenal's recent departures left: Ashley Cole, having been enticed by the better wages on offer at Chelsea. Cole complained that Arsenal had undervalued his worth by offering him a salary that was well beneath what he could command.

Cole claimed that he nearly crashed his car when Arsenal offered him what he considered well-beneath him. Getty Images.

An oft-quoted passage from his autobiography reads:

At a board meeting held two days before our 1-0 away defeat at Bolton in January, it was decided the maximum offer should be £55,000 a week. I don’t believe the board gave a damn about keeping me.

It preferred to haggle over a difference of £5,000. Somewhere along the A406 North Circular Road, one telephone call changed everything about how I viewed and felt about Arsenal. “Ash! Are you listening?” said a virtually hyperventilating Jonathan.

“I’m here in the office and David Dein is saying they aren’t going to give you £60k a week. They’ve agreed £55k and this is their best and final offer. Are you happy with that?” When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55k, I nearly swerved off the road.

“He is taking the piss, Jonathan!” I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. I suppose it all started to fall apart for me from then on.

What the reader needs to understand is that this supposed incident happened in the middle of a soured relationship with Arsenal, following events involving the player initiating a move to Chelsea while still under contract with Arsenal.

This is called "tapping up." Cole himself, his agent, then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and the Stamford Bridge club were found guilty of this and fined.

In fact, following this incident, after Cole had re-signed for Arsenal, the player became injured for a long stretch of time, and on top of this, developed an unhealthy jealousy of Thierry Henry, complaining that fans sang Henry's name while they didn't his, and this to him, equaled underappreciation. 

After he published his autobiography, which said a great deal of unflattering things about Arsenal and his teammates, it was clear that the best thing to do was sell him.

But the genesis of all this is that he had been tapped up by Chelsea, a club that could offer him more money than Arsenal could.

And this—getting more money elsewhere—is the fundamental truth behind Arsenal's problem, the ostensible habit of selling players.

This is the very fact that people like McLintock and papers like The Sun fail to take into account. The only way Arsenal can be faulted in this situation is if there were monies laid up somewhere, which Arsenal refuse to spend on better wages.

This—despite the fact that it is one of the myths some fans hold about Arsenal—isn't true. But this is a subject for the next part of the article.

Ashley Cole, like Theo Walcott, was once a Gunner. Getty Images.

Since the rise of Manchester City, underpinned by their billionaire owner, Sheikh Mansour, a host of players have made a bee-line to Manchester, but (with the exception of Robin van Persie, who had no other choice, really) they haven't gone to the red part of Manchester, but to the blue.

And why is that?


There's more money to be had there. Samir Nasri went there because the wages were higher, as did Emmanuel Adebayor before him.

And if we return to Robin van Persie, the difference between the £250,000 a week he is now earning and the £130,000 a week Arsenal were able to offer him, which would have made him the highest-paid Gunner ever, is like the gulf between the north and the south pole.

The ostensible reason Song has left for Barcelona is that Arsenal were not willing to offer him a better contract. Again, the point here is money: better pay somewhere.

The point of contention between Arsenal and Theo Walcott is still the difference between what Arsenal believe they can afford and what the player believes he can get somewhere else in a heartbeat.

The reason Arsenal lost out to Liverpool on Nuri Sahin was because Arsenal felt they couldn't afford the 70 percent of Sahin's £120,000 a week wages at Real Madrid, something around £80,000 a week, which would have made him the highest-paid Arsenal player this season.

Would it have been right to offer Sahin that kind of money ahead of the likes of Arteta, Vermaelen and even the new boy Cazorla? I'm not sure.

It is right for Arsenal to make Walcott their highest-paid player at the player's demanded £100,000 a week, again, ahead of the likes of Arteta? I'm not sure.

So the quandary is dual.

It isn't just that you are battling a superior financial opponent, but you have to make your decision in the light of what is proper and reasonable within your own context, such as whether to make Theo Walcott the highest-paid player of your current squad.


What is annoying and unfair about this "selling club" narrative about Arsenal is the fact that people who bandy this about fail to mention that Arsenal are constrained to sell in many of these cases:

Cesc Fabregas was homesick and wanted to go back to his boyhood club. He was professional in his approach to all this. Arsenal could have prevented the move as, in fact, they had done the previous season, but in the end, they'd have had to give in at one point. 

Along the line they wouldn't have been able to make the player sign another contract, and this would have only resulted in loss of value.

Samir Nasri forced his move to Manchester City.

People ask that, well, why didn't Arsenal extend his contract well before this? The thing is, if you had a recording of these people's conversation and proclamations, you might find that at one point they might have declared Nasri dung.

That is, the season of his move from Arsenal was Nasri's truly breakout season. Before then he was an okay, if promising player.

People have challenged me on this very forum on my assertion that Arsenal should renew Walcott's contract. To them, Walcott is not worthy of such an honor. 

But watch out, it will be the same people who will turn around and accuse Arsenal of lack of business sense for failing to renew Walcott's contract, such is the irrationality of the unthinking masses, changing with every gust of wind.

Robin van Persie has forced his own sale, and the motivation behind it has always been money. No player comes out to say his motivation is money. What is surprising is the number of people willing to buy their mumbo-jumbo about wanting to win trophies elsewhere.

Consider this: Players are always wanting to play for the top clubs, and they count it a privilege to move to sides such as Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, etc., even when they don't win trophies. Majority are content to stay at their clubs as long as wages are comparable.

What is causing so much unrest these days is the precise fact  that wages aren't comparable among top clubs anymore.

Why would you want to toil for Arsenal at £70,000 a week when you could easily make double or more (or failing that, significantly more) at places such as Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG or Barcelona?

This, then, is the nub and crust of the matter.

Arsenal didn't willingly sell Robin van Persie, their outstanding performer of last season. Getty Images.

The selling-club narrative is a fallacy. Arsenal don't willingly sell their best players. They have been forced into selling their players.

Some say that, well, Arsenal should change their ways, offer more money to their players.


But this has to be done within what Arsenal actually earn, otherwise, what you are saying is that Arsenal should create a bubble, spend some phantom money that is not there.

This, though, is a fallacy. For there has to be money with which to pay the players.

What such persons are saying in essence is that Arsenal should borrow the money, or that they too should get themselves a rich owner who can dish out the dough like Mansour and Abramovich do at their respective clubs.

And come to think of it, don't Arsenal have two millionaires on their board? What are they waiting for then?

Sentiments such as this cannot but birth the fallacy this article has toiled to debunk. But these are ears firmly stopped. This attempt ultimately is a vain effort, and that's what is sad about the current world.


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