“We could go into the market and probably buy any player in the world”. These words from Lord Harris, director of Arsenal Football Club have sparked speculation of an imminent spending spree from their notoriously frugal manager Arsene Wenger.
Reports of the Frenchman having £200 million to spend have been quashed by the manager, but the fact still remains that Arsenal have the funds and the draw of Champions League football in order to attract many of the world’s top talents. This has been evident over the last couple of seasons with the acquisitions of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in big money deals.
However, not all good business has to be expensive, and Arsenal might just be about to pull off their most important signing of the summer without having to delve into their deep pockets, as Theo Walcott looks set to sign a new four-year contract with the club.
It may seem bizarre to label the renewal of Walcott’s contract as Arsenal’s signing of the summer, especially with Petr Cech joining the team and the likes of Karim Benzema and Fernando Llorente rumoured to be on the radar, but tying the 26-year-old down for another four years could prove to be a vital piece of business for the North London club.
Walcott may not strike many as a key player for Arsenal, but his statistics over the last few seasons show that, when fit, he is almost indispensable for the Gunners. In the 2012-13 season, the last campaign in which the Englishman was injury-free for long enough to string a run of games together, he emerged as a prolific goalscorer and constant threat to defences, notching 21 goals in 43 matches at a rate of just under a goal every other two games.
Not only were Walcott’s stats impressive for that season, but the diminutive forward also stood head-and-shoulders above the crowd in a number of games thanks to some sublime individual performances. Against Reading in a bizarre league cup match, Walcott’s tireless energy galvanised his team to produce an unlikely 7-5 win from 4-0 down. Against Newcastle United, he ran the defence ragged on his way to a stunning hat-trick in a 7-3 victory, not just performing well himself, but exploiting space for Arsenal’s other attacking talent to thrive.
These performances can be added to a number of other notable displays in his career, like when he scored his first England goals with a remarkable hat-trick in Croatia at the age of nineteen. In the same year, Walcott almost turned the Champions League quarter-final between Liverpool and Arsenal on its head with a remarkable assist that saw the Gunners five minutes from progression to the semi-finals. The Southampton academy graduate has always had the ability to terrorise defences, and was starting to show his skill on a consistent basis during the 2012-13 season.
Since then, though, Walcott’s career has been significantly hampered by injury. An abdominal strain saw him miss the start of the 2013-14 campaign before a cruciate ligament injury kept him out of the game for ten months, meaning he was out for the majority of Arsenal’s most recent campaign as well as the World Cup with England. Thanks to his injury record, Wenger cannot fully rely on Walcott.
However, despite those injuries, Walcott has still shown signs of quality in those two seasons, and by the end of the 2014-15 campaign, he was back in the side, scoring a hat-trick against West Bromwich Albion and leading the line in a superb performance in Arsenal’s FA Cup final win over Aston Villa, which he capped with a goal. Over the last two years, Walcott has managed a goals-per-game ratio of 1 in 3, which is a pretty good record for most decent strikers. To achieve this record whilst trying to recover from a serious knee injury and often being shunted out to the wing is nothing short of remarkable.
Having a fully fit Walcott at his disposal will be wonderful for Wenger. Thanks to the forward’s versatility, the Frenchman will be able to deploy Walcott either on the wing, up front on his own, or as a partner to the big and strong Olivier Giroud. Over the last few seasons, Walcott has proved effective in each of those positions, with his pace and finishing ability enough to terrify defenders. Teamed with the talents of Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez, who knows what Walcott can achieve this season?
A new contract for Walcott may not have the excitement of the acquisition of a big name, but Arsenal fans should consider his new contract as one of the best pieces of business their club has conducted in the off season. At just 26, Walcott has already shown the world in his injury plagued career how good he can be on his day, and with a run in the team he has the potential to improve even further. His injury record obviously means that it is unlikely Walcott will always be at Wenger’s disposal, but when fit, he is the player that can make a big difference to Arsenal’s game. If he stays away from the treatment room, Walcott could turn out to be the signing of the summer.
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