Wenger optimistic over Walcott contract and plans to hand him striker role

Arsenal's Theo Walcott

Arsenal's Theo Walcott - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Arsene Wenger has hailed the commitment of Theo Walcott as the England international and Arsenal edge closer to agreeing a new contract.

The 23-year-old’s contract runs out at the end of the season but Wenger yesterday revealed that the club are moving finalising a five-year deal which is set to make the forward the club’s highest player.

With discussions progressing “smoothly, but slowly” the Frenchman fully expects Walcott to put pen paper this month.

“We are on a good road,” said Wenger, adding: “In this situation as long as nothing is signed, you are cautious, but I am optimistic we will get to a happy conclusion,” he said.

“I was optimistic last week, but I am a bit more optimistic this week.”

The Gunners boss also believes that Walcott has thrived despite the scrutiny surrounding him during the protracted contract saga, firing a hat-trick in the 7-3 thriller against Newcastle while be played as a central striker.

“I don’t think it is affecting him,” Wenger said.

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“He played against Newcastle, scored three goals and was completely committed.

“One credit I always gave him was that I could never see a difference in training from the games during the period that was quite difficult for him.

“Everybody reacts in a different way. Sometimes people have personal problems and they cannot play football, or they play even better because it’s a way to forget their personal problems.

“It is your interest to play anyway but I expected him to behave properly.”

Wenger was quick to dismiss speculation that the delay in agreeing a new contract has been down to demands from Walcott to play up front.

The manager also insisted that the Gunner has never asked for such a clause nor would he have agreed to them had the player done so.

But in recent weeks he has done his talking on the pitch having been deployed in his preferred position and his manager admits that Walcott’s future lies through the centre.

He said: “[He has improved] the quality of his runs off the ball and the quality of his finishing. If you compare today to three years ago, when he gets in front of goal he’s a different animal.

“Today he finishes in a calm way and very accurately.

“He can improve of course. He is 23, that is where players usually start their career.

“For a striker, he is coming into the best age now.”