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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Five new deals but Walcott future still key to Gunners' desire

Just before Christmas Arsenal were able to confirm that five first-team regulars had signed new, long-term deals with the club but it's the signature of Theo Walcott boss Arsene Wenger and the fans want the most.

Jack Wilshere, Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keiren Gibbs represent the future of the club and the news all five have committed to the north Londoners can only be a positive in a season that has delivered plenty of negative press.

The key issue moving forward, however, remains the future of Walcott and, if he finally comes clean and reveals he does not want to sign a new deal  at some point over the next few months, the same old questions will be asked of a famous old club. 

Fans worry the desire of the Gunners, behind the scenes, to compete with the best, both at home and in Europe, continues to dip.

It's been an up-and-down season on the pitch for them so far with the low of the Capital One Cup exit against League Two side Bradford City mixed in with poor results and displays against the likes of Swansea and Norwich. On the other hand, however, they are, once again, safely through to the last 16 of the Champions League without too many problems and the recent 5-2 victory over Reading moved them well back into contention for a top-four charge in the second half of the season. Add to that the sparkling form of summer acquisition Santi Cazorla, and there are plenty of bright spots underneath the gloom for fans, and Wenger, to cling to.

Such is the fickle and immediate nature of top-flight football these days that, in a very tight league below the top three, one good win can generate a buzz of expectancy that a club is well and truly on the up, while a below-par defeat means they are relegation fodder. Arsenal have had their fair share of critics this season but a glance at the table suggests things are nowhere near as bad as they seem.

Fans will point to the regular sales of their top players over the past few summers as reasons to be unhappy with the direction the club is heading under a maligned Wenger, though, and it is hard to disagree with them when you consider Samir Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and talisman Robin van Persie have all been allowed to leave in the last couple of years. To stoke fans' ire further, it appears that less than half of the huge fees received for
those outgoing stars have, so far, been reinvested back into the first-team squad.

Now, after Wilshere and co have decided to stay long-term, the focus switches back to England star Walcott, who has been stalling over a new deal for the past 12 months or so.

He may well surprise everyone and follow his team-mates' lead and put pen to paper but the smart money is on him leaving, probably in the summer, for either Manchester City, United or Chelsea.

Wenger has been right to try and point out the considerable positives - often unnoticed - that remain at the Emirates but even he will struggle to  spin Walcott's departure in the club's favour if, but more probably, when, the frontman becomes the latest top star to walk away in search of regular top honours.

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