Arsène Wenger insisted yesterday that he is still confident of tying Theo Walcott to a new contract at Arsenal, but warned the winger that the club wage structure would not bend for him. Walcott has been allowed to enter the final year of his deal, a risk that Arsenal have avoided taking in the past, selling Robin van Persie earlier this summer and Samir Nasri last year.
Walcott would be free to leave next summer if his current deal expired, but Wenger is more assured that the England international will stay than he was regarding Van Persie or Nasri. "Theo is 23," Wenger said yesterday. "He's English, he lives 10 minutes from here. So hopefully we can find an agreement at some stage."
Arsenal are never keen to over-pay players and Wenger made clear that this was the root of the issue. "It was never a hard-line approach, always a soft-line approach, but with respect of our wage structure," he said. "Every decision we have a general line of conduct that is our wage structure that we want to respect. If we don't do that we will go nowhere. It is of course different for a 29-year-old than a 23-year-old."
Wenger, though, was quick to defend Walcott against accusations of greed. "He's not money-obsessed," Wenger said. "He does not say 'if it's that, or not'. There are little differences in negotiations that can happen."
While talks continue this season, Walcott will stay at Arsenal, and Wenger has few worries about his focus. "I don't know what will happen in January," the manager said. "I'm more worried about Sunday [when Arsenal face Liverpool at Anfield]. And Theo is focused in every training [session] to do well. And what happens at the end of the season happens at the end of the season."
Walcott's attitude was described by Wenger as "fantastic". When asked how he could be sure of Walcott's commitment to Arsenal, Wenger replied: "We still have not found a machine who can measure the intensity of love. We would all buy it."
Many Arsenal fans are keen for the club to spend money today but Wenger said they would not do that for its own sake. "Spending in itself is not a quality," he said. "Buying good players is a quality, better players than you have is a quality. Spending, we do, when we find the right players."