Theo Walcott is now, a) one of the club's longest serving players, and b) one of its most important.
How did this happen?
Over the years, Arsenal have made an infuriating habit of losing their best players. But recently, the quality of our reinforcements has plummeted. Arsene Wenger has lost his magic touch in the transfer market. Maybe David Dein offered more of a helping hand than some like to admit. In any case, where once the team could wave goodbye to Overmars and welcome Bobby Pires, and use only half of the Anelka money to bring in Thierry Henry, now we look at the team and see Gervinho, Podolski, Giroud. Gervinho is wretched, while the other two are decent players when we need more than decent players. The pool of world class talent at the club had been shrinking and shrinking; now it seems to have finally disappeared. And so we fret about Theo's contract situation.
THE TEAM have continued to yo-yo between vague suggestions that they may yet salvage the season, and more concrete suggestions that Wenger's reign is nearing an ignominious end.
Bradford away in the League Cup quarter final was yet another low point. As the team sheets were announced it seemed as if Wenger had belatedly decided to make the least important of the available trophies a priority; a touch of pragmatism creeping in perhaps as even the sometimes deluded manager recognises that a piece of silverware may do the players a world of good. Unfortunately, as was proven in the final against Birmingham a couple of seasons ago, playing against teams you're expected to beat brings its own kind of pressure.
Arsenal were awful, Bradford were brilliant, and really deserved to claim their scalp after 90 minutes, only for a late Vermaelen header to force extra time. As chances came and went for the Gunners, the feeling grew that an upset was still on. Penalties, while not, as the stupid cliche would have you believe, a lottery, are unpredictable, and Cazorla was denied from Arsenal's first. Chamakh then hit the post and all seemed lost until Szczesny brought his teammates back into contention with a couple of saves. Vermalen had the chance to force sudden death but he, too, struck a post and the League Two side were through. The journalists sharpened their pencils and Wenger's critics sharpened their knives but Monday night's trip to basement boys Reading provided some respite and, at last, some cohesive attacking play.
Walcott finally got the start he's been asking for as a central striker, and, to be fair, played well, but both he and the team need to realise that they won't play Reading every week. It really was woeful stuff from the home side, allowing Cazorla acres in which to dictate the game and also plunder a hat trick- all poacher's goals from Arsenal's supposed playmaker. But even at four nil, the Gunners managed a serious wobble in which they conceded two goals and stoked memories of that ludicrous game at St. James' Park, before Walcott took Cazorla's reverse pass, ambled inside and slid the ball home with his left foot to dash any nascent hopes of a Reading revival.
Better from Arsenal, but this needs to become the norm over the next few games if they are to turn this season around. But when you look at the calibre of players we're being asked to put our trust in, particularly upfront, you wouldn't bet much.