Selling Theo Walcott may be best option for Arsenal and for Walcott
Theo Walcott must be cursing his luck. Coming off one of the most prolific seasons of his career, the pacey forward now seemingly finds himself further away from Arsenal's starting lineup than ever before. With less than two weeks left of the transfer window, Walcott and the club must start asking themselves if that's a situation they can live with.
Walcott has been perhaps the biggest victim of Arsene Wenger's formation switch, one that leaves the winger without a natural place in the team. If the first two games of the season are anything to go by, he is staring at the prospect of riding the bench for much of the year aside from the various cup competitions.
Perhaps both Arsenal and Walcott would be better off if he finds a bigger role to play somewhere else. With Wenger struggling to offload players and trim a bloated squad, Arsenal should look at hard at the possibility of selling their longest-serving player. Here's why.
1. Pack up or be a backup
Unless Wenger switches back to a 4-2-3-1 formation, Walcott's chances of being a starter this season look bleak to say the least. Even with Alexis Sanchez missing, Walcott was only a late substitute in both of Arsenal's first two Premier League games, coming on both times purely because they were chasing a deficit.
Right now, Walcott is behind Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck for the central striker role, with Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi preferred in the two attacking midfield slots. And that's with Wenger's summer-long pursuit of Thomas Lemar so far having proven unsuccessful.
2. He's a player they can actually sell
Wenger said after Saturday's loss to Stoke that the size of his squad isn't "manageable" but he hasn't had much luck selling players this summer. Only Gabriel Paulista and Wojciech Szczesny have left permanently, with the likes of Lucas Perez, Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs still searching for new destinations.
Arsenal are in a position where they are refusing to sell players who want to leave (Sanchez) and can't find buyers for the ones they do want to offload. Yet Walcott shouldn't have any shortage of Premier League suitors, especially coming off a 19-goal season. In this market, he should fetch £20 million easily, which could be used toward an improved bid for Lemar.
3. Time is ticking for Walcott
At the age of 28, Walcott is entering the final phase of his career and can't afford to waste a season sitting on the bench, especially since his main weapon -- his pace -- will hardly get better with time. The forward is only a couple of years away from the age where most players start losing half a step, which for him will be devastating. Walcott's speed has always helped mask some of the deficiencies in his game but once it goes, he will have nothing to fall back on.
Unlike, say, Wayne Rooney, Walcott can hardly re-invent himself as a deeper lying midfielder or playmaker to prolong his career. When the pace is gone, so is Walcott. If he wants one more big, juicy contract, the time to get it is now.
4. It's a World Cup year
Walcott's remarkable World Cup history has been well-documented, from making Sven Goran Eriksson's 2006 squad as a 17-year-old to being passed up by Fabio Capello in 2010 and then missing the 2014 tournament through injury. The fact remains that he's never appeared in a World Cup game and next summer's edition in Russia is probably his last chance to do so.
Gareth Southgate has already made it clear he's been unimpressed with Walcott's failure to secure a regular starting place at Arsenal, dropping him entirely from the England squad in March. If Walcott wants to win back his spot, the only realistic way to go in search of a starring role away from the Emirates.
Walcott has been loyal to Arsenal for more than a decade and would doubtlessly prefer to spend his entire career at the club. But if he wants to leave a mark on the national team, it may be time to move on.
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.