Arsene Wenger says he wants Theo Walcott to stay at Arsenal but admits that a new deal is not close and that the player is ‘difficult’ when it comes to contract negotiations.
The winger’s deal runs until June 2016, meaning he’ll reach a stage this summer where Arsenal have to make a decision: Do they keep talking in the hope that he’ll sign – bearing in mind he was less than 6 months from the end of his last contract before he put pen to paper; or do they look to cash in on a player who could leave for free in a year’s time.
There was a hint of sarcasm to the Arsenal manager’s words as he revealed the process had begun, saying, “The first contacts have been established with the embassy. We will see how that progresses politically.
“Walcott was difficult to convince [for his previous contract] and that is why it took us much time. We started very early with him but it was slow progress.
“He is very quick on the pitch but off the pitch, not always.”
Theo hasn’t played much recently, leading to speculation that contract issues might be a factor, but Wenger says he wants him to stay and to fight for his place in the team.
“I want him to stay and be a regular player and fight for his place,” he said.
“But no matter where you go, if it is a big club, you have to compete for your place. We went to Manchester United on Monday night – look at what they had on the bench.
“Look at what was sitting on the bench at Chelsea v Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night. That is part of the job.”
However, he did admit that time on the bench was likely to affect the player’s decision whether or not to renew his deal.
“Of course,” said the Frenchman when asked if that might come into play, “I bought Sánchez and Welbeck because you are responsible for a club and when you know a player is out for a year and will not play until January, you cannot sacrifice the first six months.
“Then, Giroud was injured and was ruled out for four months – people don’t want to know how long they will be out, they want players to play.”
It does feel as if the manager is throwing down something of a gauntlet to Walcott whose bargaining position is not as strong as it was the last time he renewed his deal.
However, he says his absence from the team is down to caution over his recovery from the cruciate injury more than anything else.
“He is ready now to play games. But when a player has been out for a year, when he comes back he always thinks he is ready. When you speak to him three weeks later and ask him if he thinks he really was ready [before] he says, ‘Now I realise, no’.
“I have been holding him back because he has been out for a long time and for the fact there is intense competition.”
This has the makings of a saga, folks. Expect this one to run on for quite a while yet.