Theo Walcott contract: Arsenal begin talks as England international returns to action

The winger could be in action against Anderlecht on Tuesday night

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The Independent Football

Arsenal have opened contract talks with Theo Walcott, less than two years after the England winger signed his last deal at the club.

Live: Real Madrid vs Liverpool and Arsenal vs Anderlecht latest scores and updates

Walcott is in contention to make his first start for 10 months against Anderlecht in the Champions League on Tuesday, and Arsène Wenger revealed in his pre-match press conference that the club have started  to talk to the player about a new deal.

Walcott signed his last Arsenal contract in January 2013 after months of protracted negotiations. That was a relatively short deal – just three-and-a-half years – taking Walcott up to the end of the 2015-16 season. That means he now has just over 18 months on his deal, the point at which the balance of power tends to switch towards the player.

“We are starting to sit down with him,” Wenger said before joking about how long it took Walcott to agree to his last deal. “I think he has one-and-a-half years to go in December. It is never an easy job with him.”

Despite Walcott’s injury problems, Wenger was confident that the club could secure his best years if they tied him to a new deal. “It should be [his peak years],” Wenger said. “Because he is 25, it is the best years, so hopefully we can profit from that.”

 

Walcott’s 2014 has been ruined by injury since he ruptured knee ligaments in an FA Cup third-round game against Tottenham on 4 January, forcing him out of the rest of the season as well as the World Cup finals with England. His brief substitute appearance against Burnley on Saturday was his first since then, and Wenger was not certain whether or not Walcott would start today. Jack Wilshere, however, is out with an illness.

The Arsenal manager was enthusiastic about Walcott’s potential involvement in Roy Hodgson’s England squads for the games against Slovenia and Scotland this month. “He needs competition and games,” Wenger said. “I’m happy for him to go with England. For us, it’s a rest period with no one here, and he needs hard training.”

Video: Arsenal vs Anderlecht match preview

Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta was effusive when discussing the forward who signed for Arsenal from Southampton almost nine years ago. “He is a unique player,” Arteta said. “A player who has been here a long time and who gives us something different. He has been tremendous for the last few seasons. To have him back can only be a bonus for me.”

Whether or not Walcott starts in the Group D game on Tuesday, Wenger admitted that he has more options to change players in attacking positions rather than defensive ones. This means that Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal are likely to continue at centre-back. After some early worries, two clean sheets in two games suggest defensive improvement, which Wenger is hoping to build on.

“Sometimes maybe we wanted too much to win games, we didn’t get our priorities right,” Wenger said. “But it is only two games with clean sheets so we shouldn’t go overboard. I am an attacking manager, but when you need to score four goals to win the game it is one hell of a mountain to climb. To attack with freedom you need to think, ‘ok, I can go now’ and be sure that you will be secure defensively.

“It is far from done, because Anderlecht are a team who are certainly more dangerous away from home because they are good on the break.”

Arsenal were outplayed when the sides met in Brussels last month, only for two goals in the last two minutes to give them a 2-1 win. 

Wenger would not be averse to a similar match on Tuesday. “If we can win it at the start, we will do it at the start,” he said. “If we have to wait until the last minute then we will. But it is difficult to predict.”

If Arsenal do win and Galatasaray do not at Borussia Dortmund, the Gunners would qualify for the last 16.  That is not enough, though, with Wenger agreeing that Arsenal need to win the group this year. “We have played Bayern [Munich] twice and Barcelona. Let’s first do the job tomorrow and then we will see.”

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