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Arsene Wenger 'regrets' Theo Walcott decision to leave Arsenal

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LONDON -- Arsene Wenger has paid tribute to Theo Walcott's contribution to Arsenal and admitted his "regret" that the winger felt he had to leave after 12 years at the club.

Walcott joined Everton on Wednesday after struggling for playing time this season despite being Arsenal's longest-serving player.

Wenger had said previously he hoped Walcott would stay, but insisted he will have nothing but good memories of the player.

"Personally I'm very attached to Theo, because he's a person who is intelligent, has complete integrity, total commitment and focus on his job," Wenger told a news conference on Thursday.

"I remember he arrived here at the age of 16 and went to the World Cup straight away. Of course when you look back, he's scored important goals in big games.

"We speak about cup finals or Champions League games, or the local derbies, where he put in outstanding performances against Tottenham. I just regret what happened, but he didn't play enough recently.

"I wish him well and thank him for everything he has done for us. He will always be welcome here."

Walcott scored 108 goals for Arsenal in 397 appearances, but has yet to start a Premier League game this season. He is hoping to revive his chances of making England's World Cup squad with a more regular role in Sam Allardyce's team.

The winger sent a farewell message to Arsenal fans on social media on Wednesday evening, admitting that he was "sad to leave."

"I would like to say a big thank you to everyone involved at Arsenal -- manager, coaches, backroom staff, and all the many people at the club that have been part of my family for the past 12 years," Walcott wrote on Twitter.

"I would also like to thank all my teammates I have had the pleasure of playing alongside, but most importantly the fans for their incredible support. I feel sad to leave but also excited for a new challenge. I wish everyone at the club every success for the future."

Wenger also addressed Jack Wilshere's contract negotiations, saying talks are still ongoing with the midfielder.

"We know what we want. We want him to stay, we want him to extend [his contract]," Wenger said. "He wants to stay. After that, we have to find a satisfying financial agreement with Jack that is good for him. That's what we're trying to do."

Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.

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