Arsenal players powerless to stop Theo Walcott leaving says Thomas Vermaelen

England winger scored in last night's victory over Reading

Captain Thomas Vermaelen feels Theo Walcott is invaluable to Arsenal - but accepts there is little his team-mates can do to stop the England forward walking away at the end of the season.

Walcott was deployed in his preferred central striker's role at Reading last night, where he netted the final goal in a 5-2 win which lifted the Gunners back up to within two points of fourth place.

The 23-year-old is currently in negotiations over a contract extension with the club. However, as the January transfer window looms, there is little indication of a swift conclusion.

Having seen close friend and former skipper Robin van Persie leave last summer when he could not agree a new deal, Vermaelen admits no matter how key a player may be, the rest of the squad have to remain focused on the here and now.

"Of course we want him to stay, but that is something that is going on between the player and the club. I don't know what is going on behind the scenes - we don't talk about it, because that is going on in football all the time," Vermaelen said.

"It happened last time with Robin in the summer. It's the job of the board and the club what they are going to do with it so we can't do anything about it."

Centre-half Vermaelen added: "Theo has been invaluable for us when he played this year. He is dangerous for us, can stretch a team with his pace and I hope he could stay this year."

Gunners boss Arsene Wenger felt his team answered their critics in the best way possible at the Madejski Stadium last night, where a hat-trick from Santi Cazorla saw them race into a 4-0 lead before any threat of a fightback was eventually extinguished by Walcott's late strike.

It was a missed penalty from Vermaelen which saw Arsenal lose their Capital One Cup shoot-out at Bradford.

The Belgian defender, however, maintains the squad were determined to put that bitter disappointment behind them as soon as possible.

"You can't stand still too long with a defeat like that - you just learn from it and move on," he said.

"We had a lot to prove. A lot of people questioned us and maybe that's normal, but we wanted to perform against Reading and we did that."

Despite all of the headlines of a club in crisis with broken cannon motifs on the back pages, all is not yet lost for the Gunners, who will discover their opponents in the last 16 of the Champions League on Thursday morning.

Indeed, should Arsenal win their lunchtime kick-off at struggling Wigan on Saturday, then they would, temporarily at least, leapfrog over Tottenham and back up into the top four.

"If you play for a team like Arsenal, there are always going to be people outside you who are going to question the manager and the team," Vermaelen said.

"The thing is, you have to stay united and work hard on the training pitch because we are the only ones who know what's going on in the team. What people say outside is just part of the job."

The Gunners captain added: "In the league, it is not going that badly.

"I agree that what we did in Bradford was a big disappointment because we want to win those [cup] games as well, but in the Premier League, it is all really close for a Champions League spot and at the moment we are chasing the top four."

Arsenal, meanwhile, are expected to make an announcement shortly on their home Boxing Day fixture against Newcastle in the wake of industrial action by some London Underground staff.

While QPR yesterday insisted their match with West Brom would go ahead.

However, Press Association Sport understands the game at Emirates Stadium will most probably be re-arranged for a later date in January.

PA

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