By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Theo Walcott is locked in a contract stalemate with Arsenal as the club impose an £80,000-a-week ceiling on the forward's new deal, Goal.com can reveal.
The north Londoners have put together a four-year package for the England international in a bid to tie him down beyond the summer of 2013, when his current agreement expires.
But contract talks have been on hold since last December and Walcott is believed to be seeking personal assurances from Arsene Wenger about where he fits into the manager's plans.
Goal.com understands that there is no suggestion at this stage that Walcott, who currently earns £60,000 per week, wants to leave Arsenal this summer.
Although the England international has refused to publicly discuss his future beyond this season or accept several opportunities to express his desire to stay at Arsenal, it is believed that he is happy at Emirates Stadium and very settled in the south-east.
Arsenal sources insist discussions are ongoing and there is no strict timetable to come to an agreement with Walcott but senior club officials are keen to avoid a repeat of the situation they experienced last summer, when Samir Nasri entered the final 12 months of his existing contract before leaving for Manchester City.
Since contract negotiations began with two informal meetings last December, Wenger has promised to sit down with Walcott to explain how he fits into his football plans but it is understood that the discussion has yet to actually take place.
The winger has established himself as an undisputed first-team regular this season, starting 29 of Arsenal’s 32 Premier League matches and missing only a single match through either illness or injury. He is the club’s second leading scorer behind Robin van Persie, weighing in with 10 goals in all competitions.
Although the 23-year-old's bargaining position is strengthened the longer his future remains unresolved, Arsenal powerbrokers will not be held to ransom.
It is understood that chief executive Ivan Gazidis told an aide at a recent Premier League match that Arsenal are not willing to increase their package for Walcott beyond £80,000-a-week.
But there is concern from the player about the lack of urgency shown by the club he joined as a 16-year-old in 2006. One source told Goal.com that Walcott is holding out for an offer that meets his £100,000-a-week salary expectations.
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Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool are among the English clubs monitoring Walcott’s contract talks, while Juventus head a queue of admirers from Italy and Spain, although none have yet been given encouragement to make a serious move.
Wenger has spoken of his desire to address Walcott’s contract impasse and keep a player who he ranked as one of the most exciting teenagers he had ever seen when he bought him from Southampton in January 2006.
“Theo is playing very well,” the Arsenal boss said at the end of last month. “He has improved his technical level a lot, his links with other players and his calmness in front of goal. He is developing very well.
“It is something I will look to sort out very early. To say that I am always confident, yes I am. We want to keep our best players.”
Walcott is not the only key Arsenal first-teamer who is out of contract next year. Van Persie has 14 months left on his deal and has told the club that he will wait until the end of the season before holding talks.
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