There is something rather reassuring about Arsene Wenger's treatment of Theo Walcott. After the departure of so many key players over the years, all lured away by extra coin, you might think that the Frenchman would crack and start spending, lashing his ungrateful children to the mast with golden ropes.
Instead, with admirable patience and composure, he continues to hold true to the principle of not bankrupting the club in an effort to provide young men with more sports cars than they can reasonably be expected to drive.
It is at this point in any article about Arsenal and money that the dafter elements of the post-Hornby generation rise to their feet and start bleating that football is about trophies and that you can't hire an open-top bus to show off a balanced spreadsheet. This is true. But without a balanced spreadsheet, you can't play football at all. At least not at the level you'd prefer, as Leeds, Portsmouth and Rangers have discovered.
If Arsenal attempted to match the spending of gazillionaires Manchester City, they would explode in a puff of IOU notes within a year. The first responsibility of the board, and of Wenger, is to ensure the survival of the football club. This is the main reason why Walcott will have to 'make do' with £75k a week.
Another reason is that Walcott is not very good at football. He¹s just quite good. Even his most fervent supporters would agree that he is unlikely to make the Ballon d'Or shortlist this year. Or next year. He has strengths, of course. If we ever held an inter-species Olympics, humans against animals, he'd certainly be a contender for the 100m and 200m events. Logistically, of course, there's a risk that he'd be eaten by leopards in one of the early heats, but it¹s the taking part that counts, isn't it? With the ball at his feet, he is exceptional; the only way you can stop Walcott is to lay down a spike strip 30 yards ahead of him and hope for the best. But there are weaknesses too, identified some time ago by Chris Waddle.
Waddle was pilloried by angry Arsenal fans and it's true that the phrase, 'he doesn't have a football brain,' might have been a little harsh, but it's hard to argue the premise. Too often, Walcott plays the wrong pass. Too often, he plays the right pass at the wrong time. It seems that Wenger's plan in 2006 was to take the raw pace and talent of a 17-year-old and relentlessly train him up into world-conquering galactico.
Unfortunately, it's a policy that has proved as successful as training a cat to fetch your newspaper. When this has been pointed out by the media, Wenger has always fought to defend his player, the fans have always fought to defend him. It makes Walcott's truculent stance all the more disappointing.
And this is the final reason why Walcott's contract offer should not be enhanced. He has been protected and molly-coddled for too long. If this slap across the chops, and yes, I just called a £75k a week contract in a time of deep recession a 'slap across the chops', is what he needs to refocus, then so be it. It's worth reminding ourselves of the moment when the Arsenal fans' patience with their boy wonder cracked. It was last season when Tottenham led 0-2 at the Emirates and they turned on Walcott with, as Samuel L Jackson might have it, great vengeance and furious anger. And what happened? A startled Walcott redoubled his efforts, put in a stunning display and Arsenal won 5-2. Sometimes people need to be told.
Theo Walcott is 23. While he has played over 250 professional games for Southampton, Arsenal and England, he is not the complete article. He is a couple of nice paragraphs. He is not worth any more than £75k a week and his posturing only makes him look ridiculous. If he wants to be the latest in a series of Gunners to trade in loyalty, love and limelight for a chance to cling to the edge of Roberto Mancini's rotating squad, then he has every right to do so. But he'll be making a big mistake.