Arsene Wenger rules out selling 'sharp' Theo Walcott in January and dismisses Jose Mourinho mind games claim
Arsène Wenger has said that Theo Walcott will not be allowed to leave in January and is expecting him to stake his claim for regular Premier League football in tomorrow’s Europa League tie against BATE Borosov.
Arsenal are already qualified for the knockout phase of the Europa League but the match is especially significant for players like Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere, who are desperate to play more regularly in this World Cup season.
That trio have started almost exclusively this season in the Europa League and League Cup but those competitions will soon provide fewer games. Walcott did have a virus but has been back in full training for several weeks and was not even among the substitutes on Saturday against Manchester United.
“He works hard to come back - he had a sickness a few weeks ago – and after I didn’t change the squad,” said Wenger. “In training he looks sharp and he will show that.” Asked if he would keep Walcott in January, Wenger simply replied: “yes”.
Walcott is Arsenal’s longest serving player and is one of a group of senior first-team players whose contracts expire at the end of next season. He did score 19 goals last season but the switch to the new 3-4-2-1 system during the second-half of last season meant one fewer attacking players and he has not since regained a regular place in the Premier League. He has currently also lost his place in the England squad.
Wenger, though, was adamant that there is nothing fixed about the team he has been playing and that there is a pathway for players to re-establish themselves in the Premier League.
“The players have been absolutely outstanding – one of the positives this season is that the behaviour of the squad is remarkable and impeccable,” he said. “Even in training when I play the team in the Europa League against the team in the Premier League, it’s very difficult predict who will win. I will adapt every time and try to pick a balanced team. It’s a fight going on and no-one is ruled out in any game.”
Wilshere is in a similar position to Walcott and, while Wenger was unsure of the exact circumstances, hardly sounded impressed to hear of photographs yesterday of his midfielder ice-skating.
Positive week, managed to get through 20 minutes of ice skating without getting injured pic.twitter.com/FjCvOmLQif— Jack Wilshere (@JackWilshere) December 5, 2017
“It’s not ideal - although for your balance it’s not bad,” said Wenger. “For a footballer I don’t think it’s great – it depends what you do. I don’t know exactly if it was bringing your child on, just making sure nothing happens. Violent ice-skating? I don’t think he does that.”
Wenger also today denied playing mind games with Jose Mourinho before Saturday’s defeat against Manchester United after saying that Alexandre Lacazette would not start. Mourinho has since referenced the situation several times but Wenger was adamant that Lacazette’s injury was simply less severe that he feared.
“I thought he wouldn’t play but in the end I thought he could play,” he said. “What do you want me to do? Leave him at home? He had test and we were not sure he would play. He tried and he played – that is part of football.”