• Premier League

Wenger denies freezing Walcott out over contract

ESPN staff
November 6, 2012 « Skrtel firm on Anzhi rumours | Chartbeat test »

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has insisted he is not keeping Theo Walcott out of the first team as a result of the uncertainty surrounding his contract extension.

Walcott, 23, is out of contract at the end of the season and has so far failed to agree terms on a new deal with the club - insisting that he wants to be given the chance to play as a central striker before he commits his long-term future to the Gunners.

Wenger has recently suggested that he will give the former Southampton prodigy that chance - while also praising him for his conduct during a difficult period - but those words have not translated onto the pitch, with Walcott left out of the starting line-up for Arsenal's defeat against Manchester United on Saturday, despite scoring a hat-trick against Reading in the Capital One Cup in midweek.

Although he was eventually brought on early in the second half, newspaper reports on Tuesday suggested Walcott's initial Old Trafford omission had convinced the forward that he was being ostracised because of his current refusal to sign a new deal, hardening his resolve to leave.

However, Wenger has insisted that is not the case, maintaining that a combination of untimely injuries and the form of other players has seen him overlook Walcott.

"It is nothing linked to his contract at all," Wenger said. "It's because I have played other players, simple as that. We started the season well, he was injured too.

"You do not want to base your contract negotiations on one game.

"I put him in straightaway for one game when he was not completely ready. He started to practise and on Saturday he played 38 minutes of a game - you can't say he's not played."

Walcott had been in line to gain a rare start in Tuesday's Champions League game against Schalke, but illness may now rob him of that opportunity.

"I will make a decision on when I know how fit he feels, this is a digestive problem," Wenger added.

"He has been sick and did not train, so we will see how he is."

Walcott has made eight Premier League appearances so far this season but has started just once - with Arsenal fans chanting for Wenger to "sort it out" regarding Walcott's playing and contractual situations during the 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford.

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