Arsene Wenger insists he wants Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to sign a new deal at Arsenal, saying it would cause “big damage” to the club if they were to lose the England midfielder.
The 23-year-old has just over a year to run on his current contract and, like a number of other stars at the Emirates Stadium, he is yet to extend his stay with talks likely to open at the end of the season.
The likes of Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez also have 14 months remaining on their respective deals, with Wenger claiming any contract talks would be put on hold until the summer as the Gunners battle against an alarming slide in form.
Against the backdrop of protests over Wenger’s management and uncertainty over the Frenchman’s own future – with his contract ending at the end of the campaign – Arsenal have won just four of their last 11 games in all competitions.
But Wenger said any contracts that are to be offered will be done before running into their final year, as will the tough decision to sell any of the players who are deemed not worthy of a fresh contract.
“It will be done this year,” he said when asked about time-frames on contract offers.
“In an inflationary market we have to consider the situation as a whole. We have to dedicate the money for everybody.
“We always had that attitude. We have have sold players in the past who we didn’t find agreements just because we wanted to respect and needed to respect our balance.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain has recently returned from a hamstring injury but has not started a game since the 3-1 defeat at West Brom before the international break.
The former Southampton youngster is often linked with a move away from the club he joined in 2011 but Wenger believes it is of utmost importance to tie him down to a new deal.
“I personally think it is vital that Chamberlain stays at Arsenal,” he said.
“We bought him when he was very young, we have built him up and I think he has a great mentality.
“I like his mentality and he has a good football brain. It would be a big damage for us to lose this kind of player.”
Despite Wenger wanting the player to sign a new deal, Oxlade-Chamberlain may again find himself on the bench for Monday’s Premier League trip to Crystal Palace as they look to keep in touch with the top four.
Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny were preferred as Wenger’s two holding midfielders in the win over West Ham last week and they performed well together.
Oxlade-Chamberlain can also operate further up the pitch but his manager thinks a central role will eventually become his default position.
Asked if playing centrally will become a long-term move for Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wenger replied: “I think so.
“He can lose balls but defensively he is strong in the challenge when he wants to switch on. He has that kind of robustness to deal with body to body, which is very important in the Premier League.
“I played him a few times a few years ago and I think he did well. When I didn’t play Ozil I had to find a combination with him in central midfield. He is offensive.
“You can see as well he is a guy who can get out of pressure. He has a dribbling skill and acceleration that can get you out of pressure. He can penetrate.
“In midfield that is important. I felt as well sometimes on the flank he is out of the game – but in the middle he is more focused. He needs to be involved in the game.”
One thing Wenger wants to see Oxlade-Chamberlain eradicate from his game is the dropping of his head when he is up against it.
“He is very critical of himself and he works on it,” Wenger added. “He is one of the guys who sometimes is too harsh with his own performance.
“You can see he is blaming himself on the pitch sometimes when he misses something. You are always in the game when it’s always the next job.
“You can see sometimes the fact that he is still in what he has missed when he gets the ball again. He works on that and I think he has improved a lot.”