The concept of social media is a fine one. Like every other good idea, the practice can turn out to be rather different. Celebrities, intelligentsia, your average person in the street; we all make cock-ups of posts and tweets, suffering the slings and arrows of judgement in the Court of Public Opinion. That is before you even consider the cases and consequences of matters serious enough to come before the real Courts.
A sweeping generalisation it may be but the minority of ‘stars’ actively post. Ordinarily it’s a PR person or agent posting on their behalf. That applies to footballers, movie stars and other entertainers. The majority of tweets are considered and bland, promoting whatever is paying the bills that week. All of which pre-amble leads to your destination, Mr Theo Walcott.
Yesterday, Team Walcott – I’ll assume it was them as Theo should have been training with England – tweeted:
I don’t normally comment on false stories about myself but reports about contract demands & bust-ups with the boss are complete nonsense…
— Theo Walcott (@theowalcott) March 26, 2015
There have been no contract talks as yet and my current focus is not on contracts but on doing my best for Arsenal FC. — Theo Walcott (@theowalcott) March 26, 2015
All harmless stuff except nobody really cared whether there was a playground spat with Arsène or if his contract demands were so stifling that Arsenal couldn’t negotiate with him. Walcott has made a story out of it when none existed. The summer is a couple of months away and contract talks were, according to reports from the Evening Standard, on ice until then. Wenger’s jokey manner made no secret of his exasperation when he spoke to the media recently,
The first contacts have been established with the embassy. We will see how that progresses politically. Walcott was difficult to convince [last time] and that is why it took us much time. We started very early with him but it was slow progress. He is very quick on the pitch but off the pitch, not always.
Walcott obviously feels slighted by the rumours which most believe stem from Ian Stone’s comments on a recent podcast, recalling a tale told to him by Nigel Winterburn. A source close to the club, enough to give the ‘revelation’ credence. That barely a ripple was raised shows the level of interest there genuinely was. Indeed, I would wager that there was more coverage of Walcott’s tweets than of the alledged incident itself.
Perhaps that was Walcott’s intention, using the opportunity as a way of voicing his displeasure at how he (and Team Walcott) have been portrayed by Arsène’s comments. Maybe he is fed up with being the fall guy. He has a point; there are two parties in these negotiations and Arsenal’s stance may not be the right one. Or the right one for Theo Walcott and I don’t think anyone has an issue with the player looking after himself. If he remains at Arsenal, it is likely to be his last big contract opportunity. There may be a renewal but in three years time, his marketing position will have weakened through age.
Walcott’s tweet has ensured that the saga probably won’t go away quietly with questions almost certainly asked of the manager at next week’s press conference, if not sooner. Could this all be part of the strategy, to try to create pressure on the club to talk sooner and give in to whatever ‘demands’ are being made. Or was it simply a misjudgement of public opinion on his people’s part? The latter seems unlikely, his advisors have been too astute in the past in that respect. Indeed, unswayed previously would be a better assessment if his last contract renewal was anything to go by. Patience was a lot thinner on the ground with the player in 2012.
It’s hard to judge Walcott’s situation at the club. Arsène will point to recent form as justification for omitting the England international if questioned; why change a winning side? There are stronger arguments for his exclusion, most persuasive for me are those which point to the inexperience of Bellerin and Chambers; they need more protection and let’s be honest, Theo’s defensive abilities show why he is a striker. If ever there was an argument for describing a player as ‘just a body’ in those situations, Walcott comes to close to it.
At the moment, Arsenal need more than that from the right side of the attack. They need a player who will track back and tackle if needed. Too often, Theo is quickly by-passed, exposing the defence more quickly than his rivals for a place in the starting line-up. Those deficiencies outweigh the positives that his pace brings. Indeed, the West Ham match suggested that he was suffering a little in that area of his game with opponents routinely overtaking him as he jogged up the pitch. It’s small instances like that which make me wonder whether we are guilty of overthinking the situation and that in the end, it might just be the case that Arsène is nursing Walcott back to fitness.
Whether this damages his relationship with Wenger is another issue. His words contradict Arsène’s to the extent that some clarification will probably be issued by one or other. I don’t really care about it to be honest. Most of what we read in the press is PR-speak to varying degrees, a whiff of someone’s genuine opinion but mindful of the fact that any words are twisted in the wind as soon as they are uttered.
Walcott’s situation in terms of getting back into the side is the same faced by Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and to a lesser extent, Mathieu Debuchy. Just as they return to fitness, Arsenal’s Premier League form surges. Of that trio, Debuchy will most likely find it easiest to regain his starting place. I doubt Hector Bellerin expects to be first choice right back beyond the Liverpool game although he may appear in the FA Cup side. Experience in this instance, will pave the way for the French international’s return. Wilshere and Arteta? I am not sure with Coquelin proving indispensable and Ramsey in favour.
The promising aspect of it all is the timing. As the business end of the season is upon us, the squad is almost up to full strength, keeping the pressure on the incumbents to maintain their form. Any slackness or off-days can be ‘punished’ with little apparent impact on the team. It’s only taken us eight months to get to this position – better late than never.