Walcott Arsenal deal moves a step closer

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The Independent Online

The Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe was last night consulting with the club's directors as to whether he should accept Arsenal's £12m bid for the striker Theo Walcott.

It appears certain that the Championship club will eventually agree to the astonishing offer for the 16-year-old who has been anointed Thierry Henry's eventual successor by the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger. Arsenal are believed to have offered a cash payment of £5m for Walcott plus a further £7m dependent on the player's development, appearances and achievements.

Walcott is keen for Southampton to accept the offer and although Chelsea have declared that they will top any bid made for the teenager, and will pay £15m, he has already set his heart on joining Arsenal. The player would earn many more millions at Stamford Bridge but he wants to go to Highbury for sporting, not financial, reasons.

Nevertheless Southampton are desperate to drive the best bargain possible and are understood to want the payment plan proposed by Arsenal re-negotiated. They also want to take a player, or players, on loan from Arsenal and are firm that Walcott should remain at St Mary's, again on loan, until the end of the season.

Wenger has said that demand is not a "deal-breaker" but Arsenal have raised their offer in the past 48 hours ­ from an initial £10m ­ partly because of the Frenchman's enthusiasm for Walcott and his desire to have the player in his squad immediately. It is increasingly unlikely, if the striker leaves, that he will be loaned back.

It has also been suggested that Arsenal could even go half-way and allow Walcott to continue playing for Southampton but train with them for two days a week. But that also now appears unworkable.

Negotiations will continue today over Walcott's future although it is in the interests of both clubs not to have a messy conclusion.

Lowe is under intense pressure, partly because of results and the chaos over managerial appointments. Walcott, who has a pre-contract agreement with Southampton to sign a professional contract on his 17th birthday in March, is adamant that he wants to leave but does not want to go to a tribunal.

If that happened then Southampton may be left with less than £1m for a player who, it must be remembered has made just 12 starts in the Championship, scoring five goals, and has not appeared in the Premiership. Neither Arsenal nor Walcott want to go to a tribunal, however, and would prefer a clean break. Hence what is, undoubtedly, a very generous offer to Southampton.

Walcott's arrival would complete a spectacular transfer window for Wenger who has already signed the 19-year-old midfielder Abou Diaby and the striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

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