Jack Wilshere has boosted Arsène Wenger's vision of Arsenal's future by committing to a new long-term deal, alongside four of his young British team-mates. Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey have also signed contract extensions. The move is seen by Arsenal as central to their aim to build a squad around a core of British players.
The one man conspicuous by his absence so far is Theo Walcott, whose deal expires in the summer despite continued efforts from the club to agree to fresh terms, but despite talks having recently restarted, he remains a big question mark.
The England international was granted his long-held wish to play as the central striker during Monday night's 5-2 victory over Reading in the Premier League, a game in which he scored his 11th goal of the campaign. Walcott said that talks are "ongoing" and he hopes that "something will happen soon". This was construed as a positive sign that the parties are moving in the right direction.
Wenger has been stung in the past by the defection of overseas players before they had peaked, such as Cesc Fábregas, Samir Nasri and Alex Song, while the departure of the club captain Robin van Persie cut him to the core. But he is more confident that the British players will stay loyal and that was borne out by the quintet signing new deals. "We are delighted that these five young players have all signed new long-term contracts." said Wenger.
"The plan is to build a team around a strong basis of young players, in order to get them to develop their talent at the club. Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group – but the other four are exceptional footballers, and we're very happy that we could conclude their new deals at the same time.
"We could not keep the core of foreign players [at the club] but I hope we can build a team around these players. We have gone through a period of restricted financial potential when we moved into the new stadium but we have gone over that and, hopefully, we can be a bit more convincing now."
Wenger continued: "Gibbs, Jenkinson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey and Wilshere represent a core of the squad and it's an extension for a long period for all of them. I'm a strong believer in stability and I believe when you have a core of British players it's always easier to keep them together, and that's what we'll try to achieve going forward."
The players are all full internationals, and between them have already made more than 350 first-team appearances for the Gunners. It is Wilshere's commitment that is the most encouraging, as the England midfielder is seen as paramount to their ambitions. The 20-year-old has been unwavering in his desire to stay with his boyhood club, and he made his intentions clear last weekend.
Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive, has confirmed that Wenger has money to spend in the January transfer window, and the manager is looking to strengthen, with a new striker a priority. The club have been in talks with Schalke over the Dutch international Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who is available to sign a pre-contract agreement with an overseas club in January.
Other names on the radar are the Crystal Palace sensation, Wilfried Zaha, and Newcastle striker Demba Ba. In keeping with their mission to sign young British players, Arsenal have also been watching Southampton's promising teenage full-back, Luke Shaw.
Meanwhile, their game against West Ham United on Boxing Day has been postponed due to a Tube strike.
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image: © Ronnie Macdonald