Yet to re-sign Walcott stakes striker claim

PATRICK JOHNSTON
Last updated 11:57 19/12/2012

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Theo Walcott finally got his wish to play in the central striker role for Arsenal yesterday and repaid under-fire manager Arsene Wenger with a goal in a morale-boosting 5-2 win at Reading.

Reportedly fed up with playing on the wing, securing the attacking position is seen as the key to Walcott signing an extension to his contract which expires at the end of the season.

Arsenal have offered Walcott a five-year deal worth £75,000 (NZ$145,000) a week, British media have reported, but the England international has yet to commit and is able to sign a pre-contract agreement with a new club on January 1.

The timing of Wenger's decision to move Walcott in Arsenal's 4-4-3 formation for the first time could be seen as his final ploy to convince the 23-year-old to sign on with the 13-times English champions.

"If you look at my statements from two years ago I said he would play in the middle and I think slowly it became his idea as well," Wenger told reporters after the win at the Madjeski Stadium moved them to fifth in the table.

"I felt it was a good opportunity to do it tonight and from what I have seen in training I thought he was ready to do it."

Walcott's promotion could not have come against easier opposition in the form of the Premier League's bottom side, who have shipped more goals than anyone else this year, and the victory provided welcome respite for Wenger after the humiliating League Cup exit by Bradford in midweek.

The former Southampton player Walcott curled a free kick just wide in the sixth minute before wasting a good one-on-one chance in the 21st minute against Reading goalkeeper Adam Federici.

STAY TOGETHER

Team mates Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla proved more accurate as Arsenal took a 4-0 lead by the hour mark, with Walcott again going close in the 56th minute with a long range strike as the visiting fans chanted his name.

But after Reading had halved the deficit, Walcott settled the match with 10 minutes remaining by quickly cutting back inside the defender and curling a left foot shot into the back of the net for his 11th goal of the season.

"Talks are ongoing and it's going to be a slow process," Walcott, Arsenal's leading scorer this season, said of his contract situation. "It's taking a long time but hopefully something will happen soon."

Walcott's inconsistencies mean he is not regarded as highly as former Arsenal player Robin van Persie, who departed for Manchester United in the close season, but his loss would be as painful for supporters who have become far too used to losing players who fail to agree long-term deals.

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Arsenal are thought to be close to agreeing a contract extension with midfielder Jack Wilshere, with Wenger keen to keep his quartet of English talent, which includes Walcott and fullbacks Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson.

"We have a good core of young English players. We couldn't keep the good core of young foreign players and I hope we will be capable of building a team around these young English players who achieve something together," the Frenchman said.

"Where a club gives a chance to young players sometimes the players must say 'let's do it together' because ... if you educate players at some stage the fate is in their hands, they have to want to do it together ... and to stay together."

Wilshere said he had been doing his bit to convince Walcott to stay and believed the winger suited the striker role.

"He showed he can do it up front and hopefully he can play there in the future," the 20-year-old said.

The next opportunity is away to 18th-placed Wigan Athletic on Sunday (NZ time).

- Reuters

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