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Gunners set to take aim on new contract for Theo Walcott

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nacho Monreal, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott warm up before a training session ahead of Arsenal's Champions League clash with Anderlecht. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nacho Monreal, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott warm up before a training session ahead of Arsenal's Champions League clash with Anderlecht. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nacho Monreal, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott warm up before a training session ahead of Arsenal's Champions League clash with Anderlecht. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire

Arsenal have opened talks with Theo Walcott about a new contract 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 Arsène Wenger revealed yesterday that the club have started to talk to the player about an extension.

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

That deal, worth £100,00 a week, has just over 18 months to run - the point at which the balance of power tends to switch towards the player.

"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.

Despite Walcott's injury problems, Wenger is confident that the club will secure his best years if they tie him to a new deal. "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 last Saturday was his first since then, and Wenger has yet to decide whether to start him tonight.

England midfielder Jack Wilshere, however, is out with an illness.

The Arsenal manager was enthusiastic about Walcott's potential involvement in Roy Hodgson's England squads for the games against Slovenia and Scotland 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 captain Mikel Arteta was effusive when discussing Walcott, who joined the Gunners from Southampton almost nine years ago.

Unique

"Theo is a unique player," Arteta said. "A player who has been here a long time and who gives us something different. He has been tremendous for the last few seasons."

Whether or not Walcott starts in the Group D game tonight, Wenger admitted that he has more options to change players in attacking positions rather than defensive ones.

This means that Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal are likely to continue at centre-back.

After some early worries, two clean sheets in two games suggest defensive improvement, which Wenger is hoping to build on.

"Sometimes maybe we wanted too much to win games, we didn't get our priorities right," Wenger said.

"But it is only two games with clean sheets so we shouldn't go overboard. I am an attacking manager, but when you need to score four goals to win the game it is one hell of a mountain to climb.

"To attack with freedom you need to think, 'okay, I can go now' and be sure that you will be secure defensively.

"It is far from done, because Anderlecht are a team who are certainly more dangerous away from home because they are good on the break."

Arsenal were outplayed when the sides met in Brussels last month, only for two goals in the last two minutes to give them a 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. But it is difficult to predict."

If Arsenal do win and Galatasaray do not at Borussia Dortmund, the Gunners will be through to the last 16.

Recent experience, though, has taught Arsenal the importance of finishing top of their group following defeats at the last 16 against Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AC Milan after they reached the knockout stages as runners-up. (© Independent News Service)

Arsenal v Anderlecht, live, Sky Sports 5, 7.45pm

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