ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger has declared his intention to build his team around a core of young British talent, after tying midfielder Jack Wilshere and four other players to new long-term contracts.
Full-backs Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson and midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – all full England internationals – and Wales star Aaron Ramsey have joined Wilshere in committing to the Gunners.
But Wenger looks increasingly likely to miss out on January transfer target Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, with the prolific Holland striker expected to snub Arsenal and sign a new deal at Schalke.
Forward Theo Walcott’s future remains in the balance, meanwhile, with the 23-year-old free to leave at the end of the season and able to discuss terms with interested clubs in less than two weeks.
“We are delighted that these five young players have all signed new long-term contracts. 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,” said Wenger.
“Jack is certainly the best known, the leader of this group – but the other four players are exceptional footballers, and we’re very happy that we could conclude their new deals at the same time.”
Wenger, who has faced questions about his own future amid Arsenal’s worst start to a Premier League season, hopes a British core will prove more loyal than departed foreign stars Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie.
He added: “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.”
Huntelaar, who scored against Arsenal home and away in the Champions League this season, has only six months left on his Schalke contract but reports in Germany suggest he is set to stay in Gelsenkirchen.
Arsenal’s Boxing Day fixture at home to West Ham has been postponed due to the planned Tube strike. The rescheduled match is set to take place on Wednesday 23 January if either side reaches the second round of the FA Cup, or Saturday 26 if neither progresses.