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Arsenal keen to give Walcott a new contract

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Arsenal have opened contract talks with Theo Walcott, less than two years after the England winger signed his last deal at the club.

Walcott is in contention to make his first start for 10 months against Anderlecht in the Champions League tonight, and Arsene Wenger revealed in his pre-match press conference yesterday that the club have started to talk to the player about a new deal.

Walcott signed his last Arsenal contract in January 2013 after months of protracted negotiations. That was a relatively short deal - just three-and-a-half years - taking Walcott up to the end of the 2015-16 season.

That means he now has 18 months on his deal, the point at which the balance of power tends to switch towards the player.

"We are starting, we are starting to sit down with him," Wenger said yesterday before joking about how long it took Walcott to agree to his last deal. "I think he has one-and-a-half years to go in December. It is never an easy job with him."

Despite Walcott's injury problems, Wenger was confident that the club could secure his best years if they tied him to a new deal. "It should be (his peak years)," Wenger said. "Because he is 25, it is the best years, so hopefully we can profit from that."

Walcott's 2014 has been ruined by injury since he ruptured knee ligaments in an FA Cup third-round game against Tottenham on January 4, forcing him out of the rest of the season as well as the World Cup finals with England.

His brief substitute appearance against Burnley on Saturday was his first since then, and Wenger was not certain yesterday whether or not Walcott would start tonight. Jack Wilshere, however, is out with an illness.

The Arsenal manager was enthusiastic, though, about Walcott's potential involvement in Roy Hodgson's England squads for the games against Slovenia and Scotland later this month.

"He needs competition and games," Wenger said. "I'm happy for him to go with England. For us, it's a rest period with no one here, and he needs hard training."

Arsenal were outplayed when they faced Anderlecht in Brussels last month, only for two goals in the last two minutes to give them an improbable 2-1 win.

Wenger would not be averse to a similar match tonight.

"If we can win it at the start, we will do it at the start," he said. "If we have to wait until the last minute then we will do it again. But it is difficult to predict what will happen."

If Arsenal do win and Galatasaray do not win at Borussia Dortmund, then the Gunners would be assured of qualification for the last 16.

That is not enough, though, with Wenger agreeing that Arsenal need to win the group this year. "We have played Bayern (Munich) twice and Barcelona in the round of 16. Let's first do the job tomorrow and then we will see what happens."

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