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Premier League

British youngsters sign long-term deals with Arsenal... except Theo Walcott

Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have signed long-term contracts

Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have signed long-term contracts with Arsenal, the club have confirmed.

Manager Arsene Wenger has been speaking this season about building a core at Arsenal based around their young British players with today's announcement confirming those intentions.

"We are delighted that these five young players have all signed new long-term contracts," Wenger said.

However, Theo Walcott is a notable absentee from today's announcement.

Following the 5-2 victory over Reading on Monday night, the England international has reopened talks with the club about a new contract, with his existing deal expiring in the summer.

That means Walcott will be allowed to talk to other clubs next month, while a switch away from the Emirates cannot be totally ruled out. Chelsea have been rumoured to be lining up a £12m bid for the 23-year-old.

Walcott has always made clear he is not angling for a move away, but wants to ensure he is rewarded as he sees fit and is given assurances over a chance to prove himself as a centre forward. He played in that position on Monday, putting in a fine performance capped with a goal.

Tying down Gibbs, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and in particular Wilshere, will delight Wenger, who has seen his star players leave on a consistent basis over the past few years.

Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in the summer, as well as Alex Song for Barcelona. The previous year Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy departed while in the years before that Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas were allowed to go.

It also signals Wenger's intent to focus more on British players after years of foreign imports leading the team.

"The plan is to build a team around a strong basis of young players, in order to get them to develop their talent at the club," Wenger said.

"Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group - but the other four players are exceptional footballers, and we're very happy that we could conclude their new deals at the same time.

"Gibbs, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and Wilshere represent a core of the squad and it's an extension for a long period for all of them.

"I'm a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players, it's always easier to keep them together and that's what we'll try to achieve going forward."

Speaking at the start of the season Wenger said the quality of British players has improved.

“Before we had young players like Fabregas and Nasri. Now we have some good young British players for the first time in the group - Gibbs, Ramsey, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain for example. We have a core of young players that we want to build on.

“We are still only focused on quality but for the first time England produces so much quality. It's not that I have changed. For me the quality is the most important thing.”

The announcement also provides a welcome good news story for Arsenal fans who recently witnessed their side crash out of the Capital One Cup to League Two side Bradford, a result that coincided with a worrying return of results in the Premier League.

Two wins in their last two league games have returned Arsenal to the right end of the table and those at the club feel the ship is steadying.

“In the championship our run is not so bad recently,” Wenger said. “This run is not fantastic but not disastrous.”

Thomas Vermaelen, the Arsenal captain, made precisely the same point after the Reading game. Arsenal, it should not be forgotten, are only two points behind Tottenham and Chelsea.

“In the league, it is not going that badly,” said Vermaelen, another voice of cool assessment amid the hysteria that often surrounds Arsenal.

“What we did in Bradford was a big disappointment because we want to win those games as well. But in the Premier League, it is all really close for a Champions League spot and we are chasing the top four.”

Vermaelen wants Walcott to stay but has no idea whether he will sign a new contract or not. “Of course we want him to stay but that is something that is going on between the player and the club,” said the Belgian.

“I don’t know what is going on behind the scenes – we don’t talk about it. Of course, Theo has been invaluable for us as well when he played this year. He has been a dangerous player for us and I hope he decides to stay this year.”

According to Vermaelen, it is a private issue and there is not much discussion between Walcott and his team-mates. “Not really because that is going on in football all the time,” he added. “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.”