Arsenal push boat out to keep Walcott




Arsenal are ready to stretch their rigid pay structure to push through a new deal for Theo Walcott, which could be signed ahead of this weekend’s Barclays Premier League clash with Manchester City.

The Gunners are ready to make Walcott among the highest-paid players at the club with a five-year contract worth around £90,000 a week, which would be boosted by lucrative add-ons.

Manager Arsene Wenger spoke in length about the “socialist” pay structure within the Arsenal dressing room ahead of the FA Cup tie at Swansea, revealing there was a general consensus to keep pay disparity to a minimum, unlike many of their top-flight rivals.

Wenger, though, has stressed the need to keep Walcott on board at the Emirates Stadium, with the player having already rejected one contract offer earlier in the season, but now both parties would appear close to reaching an agreement.

Walcott had also expressed a desire to be deployed more in his preferred central striker role, in which he has revelled during recent weeks, crashing in a hat-trick in the 7-3 win over Newcastle.

While Wenger indicated signing up the 23-year-old England forward was his main priority during the January transfer window, Arsenal are still expected to bring in more additions as they look to break back into the top four of the Premier League and tackle Bayern Munich for a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Drafting in another striker would appear high on the agenda, given Gervinho is away at the African Nations Cup and Marouane Chamakh was allowed to join West Ham on a six-month loan.

Barcelona’s David Villa and Adrian Lopez of Atletico Madrid are both reported targets, along with Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo and Mainz front man Adam Szalai.

Elsewhere, Wigan’s £9million-rated Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy is said to be on Wenger’s radar, as is Rennes misfit Yann M’Vila.

The Italian press also have linked Roma goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg with a move to north London.

However, Gunners’ No 1 Wojciech Szczesny sees himself as Arsenal’s long-term option.

The 22-year-old Poland stopper told Arsenal Player: “I don’t think about playing for any other club. I see my future at Arsenal.

“I committed to coming here at the age of 16, not to then leave at the age of 24. That is not how it works for me.”

Midfielder Abou Diaby, meanwhile, handed Wenger a timely fitness boost when he returned to action from his latest long injury lay-off — having been missing with a thigh problem since September 29 — as he played more than an hour for the U21s against West Brom in their Premier League Elite Group game.

Full-back Andre Santos has been sidelined by a stomach muscle strain but also was back in action yesterday afternoon.

The Brazilian scored the equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground, where midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong, who has just returned from a loan spell at Charlton, was sent off for two late bookings.

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