By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City are among the clubs closely monitoring Theo Walcott’s contract talks with Arsenal.
The forward has opened negotiations on a new deal but an agreement is far off.
As revealed by Football Insider, Walcott has told Arsenal that he wants a £34million contract that will put him on pay parity with the club’s top earners Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
Sources said that Walcott, who turns 26 tomorrow, is seeking a five-year deal that keeps him at Emirates Stadium until he is 31.
The England international’s current £90,000-a-week agreement, signed in January 2013, expires in the summer of 2016 although it includes an option for a further 12 months.
Chelsea led the race for Walcott two years ago and once again will keep a close eyes on developments, as will Liverpool and City.
The player is settled in the south-east with his young family and his preference is to stay at Arsenal but he has only been on the fringes of the team since recovering from the knee injury that sidelined him for nearly a year.
Speaking last Friday, Arsene Wenger admitted that talks could be quite protracted process.
Football Insider has learned that Walcott’s representatives approached the club before Christmas about a new deal, and asked for a £130,000-a-week deal that will lift him alongside record signings Ozil and Sanchez as the club’s top earner.
Wenger wants Walcott to stay at the club he joined from Southampton in January 2006 but the Arsenal manager is unlikely to sanction such high basic salary for a player who missed almost the whole of 2014 through injury and has made just five starts this season.
The 25-year-old played 72 minutes of the Gunners’ 3-0 win over West Ham on Saturday but was only a late substitute against Monaco in midweek and has found himself behind Sanchez, Ozil, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the pecking order for the first-team attacking roles.
Wenger admits Arsenal have started contract talks with Walcott’s camp but is not expecting a rapid resolution to negotiations.
“We have started very early with him,” said Wenger. “He is very quick on the pitch, but off the pitch not always.
“Walcott was difficult to convince (in 2013) and that is why it took us much time. I always wanted to keep him and I still want to keep him now.
“I want him to stay and be a regular player and fight for his place, but no matter where you go if it is a big club you have to compete for your place.”