Arsenal on the brink of £10m deal for Walcott

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The Independent Online

Arsenal have opened talks with Southampton over a £10m deal to buy striker Theo Walcott. Negotiations started because the 16-year-old, who is not due to sign a professional contract until March, is understood to have chosen Highbury above other suitors such as Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Although Southampton may refuse Arsenal's initial offer - of £5m up front plus a further £5m based on appearances - it is only a matter of time before a deal is agreed, and Walcott could complete a medical today.

Walcott's decision represents a huge coup for Arsène Wenger who has worked hard to land the precious teenager he regards as the natural successor to Thierry Henry. Wenger has privately said he believes he can mould Walcott into the best player in the world.

Walcott is a fan of Henry and after long discussions with his advisers, led by agent Colin Gordon, he and his family have agreed that Arsenal is the best club for his development, despite the prospect of more lucrative offers.

Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe and director of football Sir Clive Woodward were at Arsenal's training ground for three hours of talks yesterday but Lowe later denied it was to discuss Walcott's transfer. Lowe said he was there "just to look at their facilities which are magnificent".

Lowe insisted that a fee had not been agreed and will try to persuade Arsenal to loan Walcott back for the rest of the season. "We have not agreed to sell Theo," he said. "We want to keep him."

However, in an interview with the club's in-house radio station, Lowe conceded he could not "give copper-bottomed answers" and say that Walcott would stay at St Mary's. He added: "If at any stage he wants to go then that is a matter for him and his advisers and those he talks to." Concern has grown among Walcott's advisers at the number of games he has played this season and at the upheaval at Southampton.

Wenger is also stepping up his efforts to buy Monaco's out-of-favour £5m-rated striker, the 6ft 3in Togalese international Emmanuel Adebayor, while Arsenal are today expected to confirm the signing of the 19-year-old French midfielder Vasiriki Abou Diaby for about £2m.

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