Arsene Wenger: Arsenal must keep hold of their British core
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger wants Arsenal to keep their group of British players together this summer, and said it would be "a big damage" to the club if Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was to leave.
Arsenal face a summer of important contract negotiations as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey are among a group all with deals that expire after next season, meaning the club will have to decide whether to give them long-term extensions, sell them or risk losing them for free.
All four were part of the "British core" that penned long-term deals in 2012 -- a moment that at the time heralded a new era of homegrown talent at the club.
However, they have all struggled to lock down starting roles since then and speculation has grown recently that Arsenal would let at least a couple of them move elsewhere this summer.
But while contract talks have yet to begin with the group, Wenger was adamant that he wants to see them all stay at the Emirates Stadium.
"We have to keep them all," he said ahead of Monday's game at Crystal Palace. "We still have a group of young English players. We have Ramsey, we have Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Gibbs. All these players, we have to make decisions and manage to keep them together."
Wenger did not include Carl Jenkinson in that list, a further indication that the right-back -- who was the fifth player of the "British core" -- will have to find a new club. Jenkinson was nearly sold in January but a deal with Palace fell through over personal terms.
Wilshere has spent this season on loan at Bournemouth to get back to playing regularly after lengthy spells out with injuries, and manager Eddie Howe has expressed an interest in signing him permanently.
Gibbs could be tempted to move on after failing to overtake Nacho Monreal as Wenger's first-choice left-back, while Oxlade-Chamberlain has often been mentioned as a possible transfer target for several English clubs.
But Wenger is desperate to see Oxlade-Chamberlain commit his long-term future to Arsenal.
"I personally think it's vital that Oxlade-Chamberlain stays at Arsenal. We have bought him when he was very young, and we have built him up," Wenger said. "I like his mentality, and he has a good football brain. I think it would be a big damage for us to lose this kind of player."
The England international has impressed recently when playing in a central midfield role, and Wenger reiterated that he sees Oxlade-Chamberlain's future in the middle of the park rather than on the wing.
"Sometimes on the flank he's out of the game. In the middle he's more focused. He needs to be involved in the game," Wenger said. "He can lose balls, but defensively he's strong in the challenge. When he wants to switch on, he has that kind of robustness to deal with body to body. And that's very important in the Premier League."
It remains to be seen whether Arsenal can actually keep all three of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere and Ramsey and find enough playing time for all of them in midfield -- especially if Mesut Ozil also stays at the club.
Ozil and Alexis Sanchez will also renew contract talks this summer, and their decisions could have an impact on what happens to Arsenal's British players as, according to Wenger, the club may not be able to meet everyone's wage demands.
"That's our problem. In a very inflationary market, we have to consider the situation as a whole. So that means we have to dedicate the money for everybody," he said.
And Wenger -- whose own future also remains unresolved -- said the club would not be afraid to make tough decisions if necessary.
"I think we always had that attitude, I think we have shown that in the past," he said. "We have sold players in the past when we didn't find agreements, just because we needed to respect our balance."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.