Walcott’s divorce from Arsenal would be difficult pill to swallow

It is frustrating how often the past seems to repeat itself when it comes to Arsenal, both in terms of familiar failings on the pitch and in tying players down to long-term contracts. While the intent on display to re-sign Theo Walcott has been notably more muted and measured – both on the part of fans and club – than it was for Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, they have nonetheless failed to find a resolution or to keep the club’s supporters updated with the kind of urgency that an important situation might require.

If the current impasse does result in Walcott upping stakes, it would be a greater shame for Arsenal than its fans currently realise. For all his frustrating inconsistencies and seemingly perennial inability to accelerate his development, Walcott still encapsulates a thrilling precocity that is quite unlike any other in the game and carries a magic all of its own. On the few occasions on which he has untangled the mysteries that sometimes hold him back, the results have resounded across the footballing stratosphere – from his hat-trick in the demolition of Croatia on the international stage to the way he scythed Barca with his pace enroute to hauling Arsenal back from the brink in a thrilling 2-2 Champions League draw at the Emirates. These were stunning individual displays against opposition of the highest quality at club and international level, and the single-handed effect he had in turning around those games was enriched by a blinding turn of pace that thrilled the senses. There has always been something pure and rousing to the soul about the sight of Walcott put through on goal, haring towards the keeper and slotting away with the coolest of finishes. It was on display when he scored in Arsenal’s last league match against West Ham, as a poignant reminder of the kind of talent they would be forsaking in giving up the battle to keep him.

It may be that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain carries more natural technical talent in one boot than Walcott has in two, and that the fans do not see his potential loss to be as great as those who have left the club in recent times. However, that is to miss the point of how perfectly Walcott captures and reflects the essence of Arsenal. For all those fans who still regard the values that Arsenal have upheld during Wenger’s tenure at the club as worth fighting for, letting go of Walcott would be a significant forfeiture of almost every one of them. Here is a young player who has yet to fulfil his box-office-sized talent or to find the confidence that could define his career, and that Arsenal have made a habit of coaxing out of the charges in their stable. More importantly here is a player who, at the top of his game, conveys the thrilling abandon of football perhaps better than anyone in his sport, and whose lack of an abundance of natural technical talent whilst doing so merely enhances the message that football is a sport of pure joy, to be celebrated by anyone. Above all the pass wizardry and Spanish imitations, it is this pure enjoyment and love of football as a sport that Arsenal under Wenger have sought to communicate and Walcott – through the unaffected way in which he plays and the eternal hint of the promise of youth in his persona – is the living embodiment of this notion. If Arsenal give up on him without a fight, the light will go out on Walcott’s power to captivate at clubs where the pressure to contribute something material is much more suffocating and Arsenal in turn will have signalled that hardening up as a result of some tough experiences with players in recent years has not come without a cost to the things they are celebrated for.

Cazorla’s and Sahin’s mooted arrivals increase optimism at Arsenal

News that Arsenal are working hard and drawing closer to deals that would bring Nuri Sahin and Santi Cazorla to the club should be encouraging to its supporters. Along with Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, Arsenal’s four signings this summer represent a change in approach to the transfer market that has every chance of bearing fruit on the pitch – even if Robin van Persie is granted his wish to leave.

Of the two names, it is Cazorla’s who sparks the most interest. Arsenal have never been short of a fine player, but it is exciting to imagine that they are on the verge of acquiring one whose ball-skills are complemented by deep pride and fierce caring for his career. How else to explain his decision to turn down a move to Real Madrid in 2008 because “there are many things in football besides Real Madrid and…he already felt very satisfied and valued at [Villarreal]?” Such surety and individualism in his decision-making bears the mark of a man who does not make his decisions lightly, gives his all once he has committed to a project and is the kind of football-loving professional that Arsenal have been in desperate need of over the last few years. The value of having a player who cares deeply about his football and seeks to build a bond with his club can never be approximated, but when Thierry Henry returned to Arsenal last season in the twilight of his career with his mind uncluttered by thoughts of money and glory at the Barcelonas of this world, he somehow found the right mix of talent and love to score a last-minute winner against Sunderland that led to the point advantage to Tottenham that kept Arsenal in the Champions League. Cazorla’s talent, hunger and actions suggest he can play a similarly inspiring role for the club once he settles in, and help move Arsenal’s young players on from the kind of complacency that has seen them lose countless games in silly fashion over the last few seasons.

Changing circumstances should give cause for hope that Arsenal’s youthful squad are already beginning to locate that missing sense of urgency and pride for their club’s fate and grow into their roles and responsibilities for the team. The prospect of van Persie, their talisman and a player whom they relied upon to get through most of last season departing, comes as a timely shock that should spur on those in need of a push to greater competiveness and maturity on the pitch (particularly Theo Walcott and Gervinho). The growing competition in the Premier League – and particularly the way Manchester City have gorged on Arsenal – would have alerted the players to the fact that the oncoming season will require consistently better performances than they have yet produced, whilst pricking their pride could also yield positive results. Indeed, there have already been hints in stirring performances enroute to beating Chelsea (5-3), Manchester City (1-0) and Barcelona (2-1) over the last two seasons that Arsenal find release in their relatively new casting as underdogs among the Premier League’s elite. Add to this the elevation of a stern defensive taskmaster in Steve Bould, Cazorla’s personal and football qualities, and the likely arrival of a highly determined young player in Nuri Sahin desperate to make up for lost time and prove his worth to Real Madrid, and Arsenal will have set themselves up for the post-van Persie era with a fighting chance.