- Premier League
Wenger hails Theo commitment amid contract wrangles
Arsene Wenger has commended Theo Walcott for his on-pitch focus as speculation about the Arsenal winger's future with the club continues to rumble on.
Walcott turned in a sensational display in the Gunners' 7-5 Capital One Cup victory over Reading on Tuesday night as his hat-trick helped inspire a remarkable fight back, with the Gunners battling from 4-0 down at the Madejski Stadium to progress.
The England international's performance did not go unnoticed by Wenger, who has admired Walcott's application amid the recent stalling of contract talks between player and club.
Wenger is hopeful of an imminent resolution over a new deal for Walcott, whose current terms expire next summer, and even suggested that a central striking role awaits the former Southampton man, who has often stated his desire to play through the middle for the Gunners.
"He was superb tonight," Wenger said after his side's dramatic victory. "I always said that he will be a striker, we are on the same wavelength there because he has something.
"First of all, he is a good finisher - the way he scored the first goal and the second I think as well, he knows where to be in the box on the rebound. I like that quality, you either feel it or you don't. He has the qualities to play there."
And when asked whether Walcott will be playing that role at Arsenal, Wenger replied: "That's what I hope. I have always said that I want to keep him and apart from contract talks, you have to give him credit for the way he is committed and for the team and the way he behaves."
Wenger had dismissed the Capital One Cup as his lowest priority only last week, but after Tuesday's incredible game the Frenchman was able to reflect on the "proudest victory" of his Gunners.
He said: "We went from disaster to some pride, coming back in the second half. When we got it to 4-1, I thought yes, it's possible, but we still needed a miracle.
"The team created many chances in the second half and I always had hope that we would come back, but when it is 4-2 with no minutes to go, its looks too much. In the end, we have a score that looks like a tennis game and it was one of the most extraordinary games you will see.
"When you are 4-1 ahead, you still think you have won the game. At 4-2, you suddenly realise that it's not over and then the panic kicks in and no matter how good a player you are, that goes through the team.
"I know what it is to be pulled back when you're 4-0 up. It happened to me as well at Newcastle last year. Reading should take credit from their performance and not be too disappointed because in the first half, they were exceptional."
Wenger refused to condemn the Arsenal supporters who walked out of the Madejski Stadium in disgust after Reading scored their fourth first-half goal and it seems the desire to reward the travelling Arsenal fans was the theme of the manager's half-time team-talk.
"It was not difficult to find an inspiration at half-time because there was enough there to talk about," he added. "Overall, I just felt sorry for our fans because at 2-0, they stayed behind the team. At 3-0, they stayed behind the team. At 4-0, they stayed behind the team. I would like to give the supporters some credit for helping us.
"Some may have decided to leave at 4-0 and I give them slightly less credit for inspiring the team, but overall, we had a wonderful support and that helped to keep us going when the game seemed lost."