Early Doors

Deal or no deal?

In less than 24 hours, two of the standout performers of the weekend - and both England internationals to boot - will be able to sign pre-contract agreements with foreign clubs. What a coincidence, then, that they both produced their most influential performances of the season prior to this Bosman-mandated deadline.

After Arsenal's Theo Walcott scored three times and claimed two assists in a barely comprehensible 7-3 home win over Newcastle, Frank Lampard scored two of his own in a crucial 2-1 win away at Everton as Chelsea ended the home side's unbeaten record at Goodison Park.

Neither man could have wished for a better negotiating position heading into January had they placed their manager's head into a vice, a la Joe Pesci in Casino, and gently started squeezing while making unreasonable demands about image rights.

In fact, like the 'Cruyff turn' and the 'Panenka penalty' before them, the 'Lampard contract reminder' and the 'Walcott negotiating ploy' look set to become iconic moments in the game. Well, amongst money-grabbing agents at least, as these were two masterclasses in how best to leverage your talent at a crucial time.

Both performances also delighted those supporters desperate for their heroes to stay on.

Nothing speaks more eloquently of the love Chelsea fans have for Lampard than the banner held aloft by one Chelsea fan yesterday that read: 'Abramowitsch Don't Let Him Go Super8Frank'.

Likewise, what more effective message could Arsenal supporters wish for than the euphoric, inspiring anthem belting out of North London that implores Walcott to "sign da ting."

But if comparisons can be draw between Lampard and Walcott in terms of their keen sense of timing and the rather embarrassing response they have drawn from some supporters, actually these are two very different cases.

For one, Lampard actually wants to stay at Chelsea and appears ready to sign should the club put a contract in front of him. Early Doors has even heard he's taken to carrying a Biro around in the hope that a contract might accidentally slip out of Roman Abramovich's folder when he takes one of his tours of the training ground.

The only thing that can solve the Lampard impasse is the will of the owner. But does Abramovich want to sign off on another expensive contract for a 34-year-old player who, though impressive at the weekend, is demonstrably on the wane?

On recent evidence Lampard is probably worth another season but with no offer on the table, there must be a good chance he will follow the route established by David Beckham and embrace the security and monetary reward offered by a deal at LA Galaxy.

Certainly it seems Chelsea - who are more concerned with securing a deal for Demba Ba - have told Lampard he is no longer required, meaning he will have to look for pastures new for the first time since June 2001.

If the midfielder is looking for one final pay day then Walcott, by contrast, is trying to cash in while at the height of his powers.

Desperately mediocre for long swathes of his Arsenal career, Walcott now threatens to leave the club just as he appears to have found consistently devastating form.

Only Arsenal could have indulged an under-performing player for years and years, only to lose him for free just as he finally blossoms into something worth the hassle. It's so typically Arsenal it's almost painful.

Should Walcott indeed leave the club this summer, or even in January, Arsenal's transformation into football's finest finishing school will be complete - Wenger the reluctant headmaster who gets his pupils star grades before packing them off to big school, where they can properly realise their potential.

If you thought letting Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie enter the final year of their contract was silly enough, now Arsenal's most effective player - at least in terms of goals and assists - has only six months left to run. The fact that that man is Walcott only makes the scenario all the more ridiculous.

ED is no fan of Walcott - his awful pass for Santi Cazorla to ruin one break on Saturday stuck in the mind of this cynical observer more than his finishes, while Olivier Giroud is clearly a better centre-forward - yet the evidence is now overwhelming: Arsenal need to keep him, even at £100,000 per week.

A club that has sold at least one star name every summer for the past eight years cannot afford to lose Walcott to a free transfer. But tomorrow he could announce he is joining Paris Saint-Germain in June and there is nothing they could do to stop him.

Two members of England's first-choice starting XI have their futures up in the air, and as we enter January it is time to ask once again, deal or no deal?

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The more observant amongst you might have realised it is a Tuesday tomorrow, but as it is also New Year's Day and we will all be nursing hangovers, Early Doors is having the day off. Normal service will be resumed on Wednesday, when the Eurobot also returns to guide you through another hectic transfer window. Happy New Year, ED fans!