By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Arsenal have offered Theo Walcott a new contract on a lower salary because they feel he has not proved his fitness since returning from injury, Football Insider sources understand.
The England international made his comeback last November after missing virtually the whole of 2014 but he subsequently made just seven starts last season.
Despite finishing the domestic campaign with four goals in two matches, Arsene Wenger and his staff believe Walcott is still not fully recovered physically and mentally from the cruciate ligament injury that he suffered against Tottenham 18 months ago.
Football Insider understands that when talks opened earlier this year the FA Cup holders gave Walcott three options in a bid to end his contract stalemate and stop negotiations dragging on into next season.
The Gunners told Walcott he can have a four-year deal on a lower salary, take up the 12-month extension option in his current deal or leave this summer.
As revealed by Football Insider, the 26-year-old is seeking a five-year contract worth £130,000-a-week that would catapult him into the top tier of earners at Emirates Stadium alongside Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez.
However, Arsenal are unwilling to sanction that kind of deal for a player who has been on the fringes of the team since returning from injury last November.
Football Insider understands that the package Arsenal have offered Walcott is spread over four years and worth £90,000-a-week. This is a drop on Walcott’s current £100,000-a-week salary and a pay cut is unlikely to be accepted by the forward.
Despite the player’s two impressive end-of-season displays, interest from Chelsea and Liverpool will be seriously considered if Walcott does not accept the deal on the table.
Walcott will have only a year to run on his contract in the summer and Wenger has already made it clear that he expects negotiations to be far from easy.
Speaking in the aftermath of the FA Cup triumph 10 days ago, Wenger said he expects the 26-year-old to extend his spell with the club he joined in January 2006 beyond nine-and-a-half years.
“I don’t see why he should not be here next season. He is a player who was out for a year – January to January – and it took him a while to come back to his best.”