Arsenal ready to gamble £10m on Theo Walcott's future
Wenger rules out sale of forward in January even though he will be a free agent next summer
Arsenal are prepared to take a £10m hit by keeping Theo Walcott until the end of the season if he refuses to sign a new contract before January.
Speaking after the Gunners' 5-2 victory over Tottenham Hotspur in Saturday's typically eventful north London derby, their manager Arsène Wenger confirmed for the first time that the club will not attempt to cash in during the winter transfer window. A terse exchange with reporters went: "Will you sell him in January if there is no agreement?" "No." "So he will stay until the end of the season regardless?" "Yes."
Asked if there had been any progress on a more acceptable contract, Wenger replied good-humouredly: "If I listen to you, then every day it gets more expensive. We continue in a positive way. I told you many times we have until the end of December to sort this out."
If that does not happen, he insisted, the England international will remain for the rest of a season in which Arsenal need to make sure of a Champions League place, continue their progress in this season's competition – they could have qualified for the knockout stage by Wednesday night after playing at home to Montpellier – and pursue a first trophy for what will be eight years.
Walcott himself said of the ongoing negotiations: "I'm just continuing to play my football and I'm letting Arsenal and my agents deal with all that side of the thing. I enjoy playing at this club and hopefully something can get sorted out."
Jack Wilshere, Walcott's team-mate for both club and country, is keen for the issue to be resolved. "He is an English lad and great to have around the dressing room," the midfielder said. "But that is up to him, the boss and the board. They are going to do whatever they are going to do. I hope he signs.
"We all know what Theo brings to the team. He has pace and his movement and timing of runs is probably the best around."
Walcott's form since he was belatedly restored to a starting place in the team justifies the belief that Arsenal would be better off with him in the side than without him, even if Liverpool and others were prepared to offer an eight-figure sum. When only a substitute earlier in the season, he made a significant impact in games such as the win at West Ham, when he came on to score. Since then he has scored a hat-trick in the Capital One Cup victory at Reading, featured in both goals in the away draw at Schalke and laid on two for Olivier Giroud against Fulham.
Saturday's contribution included seeing off a bemused Tottenham left-back in Kyle Naughton, who was substituted at half-time, crossing for Per Mertesacker to head the equaliser, having a hand in Santi Cazorla's goal and claiming a richly deserved one of his own right at the end to remain Arsenal's leading scorer this season. The one irony is that by serving Giroud so well he may be undermining his chances of playing in the striker's role that he covets.
"I believe Theo is doing very well," Wenger said. "He can play both positions. You have as well situations, such as today, where the goalkeeper kicks the ball out and Giroud flicks the ball on or controls it on his chest – things Theo will not be capable to do. He is a different type of player but he can play up front, and he can play up front with Giroud as well. I think he has found a good mixture and good positional play on the wing. It makes him difficult to stop. I haven't changed my mind on him; I've always said I want to keep him. We haven't found an agreement yet but we will continue. He certainly doesn't play like someone who wants to go, and I don't behave like somebody who wants him to go."
* Montpellier held Valenciennes to a 1-1 draw on Saturday ahead of Wednesday's Group B trip to Arsenal, despite playing the final half hour with 10 men.
Gaëtan Charbonnier gave the defending champions the lead with a fine volley after 15 minutes, only for former Liverpool striker Anthony Le Tallec to set up Gregory Pujol to level five minutes before the break. Jamel Saihi was harshly sent off in the second half.
Will he or won't he? The Walcott saga
* Theo Walcott's future has been a continual topic of debate at Arsenal this season with the England international in the final year of his contract. Central to Walcott's concerns are his wish for a striking role, with Arsène Wenger preferring to use him on the wings.
Walcott linked with moves to Manchester City and Liverpool as reports suggest he is unhappy with £75,000 contract offer from Arsenal.
Wenger responds to calls for Walcott to be given a striking role: "I'm not against it, but we try and at the moment there is big competition up front, we have a different formula and the team is doing well. His time will come for that and at the moment we have to be a bit patient.
Walcott scores a hat-trick in Arsenal's dramatic 7-5 Capital One Cup win at Reading, strengthening his claims for central striking role.
"Hopefully, I told you many times, we can sort this situation out very soon. Very soon is before the end of December - one way or another, that is for sure," said Wenger.
Reports suggest the club would offer Liverpool Walcott and £8m to try and tempt teenage sensation Raheem Sterling to move to the Emirates. Walcott then scores against Spurs, his ninth goal in 15 games. "I've always believed I'm a striker," he said afterwards. "I want to play up front. That's my position."
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