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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Walcott coy on future after hat-trick

Theo Walcott refused to shed light on his Arsenal future after scoring his second hat-trick of the season.

• Blog: Changing the point of attack?
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Walcott took the match ball home after helping the Gunners to a 7-3 victory over Newcastle for a fourth consecutive league victory.

However, the England international's future remains uncertain with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, and he will be permitted to speak to foreign clubs when the transfer window opens on January 1.

But Walcott is confident of reaching a resolution in contract talks with the Gunners and said he will not be distracted by off-field issues.

"I will continue to play my football," Walcott told BBC Sport. "Talks are ongoing and I'm sure something will be sorted soon."

One of the sticking blocks in Walcott signing a new long-term deal with the Gunners is believed to stem around his desire to play a regular role up front instead of on the wing.

And while he insists he will do what is best for the team, he was pleased to show his talents in a forward role.

"I enjoy playing in whatever position but it was just telling the manager to give me the opportunities to play up front,'' he told ESPN. "I'm not saying I'm always going to play up front but it's just showing what I can do but hopefully I've opened a few eyes and it's just a different option. Hopefully, I can start to take it a bit more often now.''

Arsenal took a one-goal lead on three occasions against Newcastle through Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski but were pegged back on each occasion by two strikes from Demba Ba sandwiched in-between Sylvain Marveaux's tap in.

But after Walcott put the London side ahead once more, the Gunners ran riot in the final 10 minutes thanks to two goals from Olivier Giroud and a further strike from Walcott.

"It was just end-to-end and very open. When it's open it plays into my hands to be honest,'' Walcott added. "We're disappointed in the goals we conceded but to score seven, it doesn't matter how we win. As long as we get the three points. We've got a game in hand. I don't know what crisis everyone's on about.''

Meanwhile, Walcott revealed that he had received some coaching from former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry after the Frenchman began training with the club this week. Walcott is hopeful Henry will sign another short-term loan deal with the Gunners.

Walcott said: "I have learned in the years when Henry has been here, but he has started training with us as well, so just to be around him other players are going to gain more and more experience.

"He's shown what qualities he has last season, so hopefully [a loan deal] can be sorted out and [we can] learn from the best."

The Newcastle win was Arsenal's fourth consecutive Premier League win, which lifts them up to fifth, and midfielder Jack Wilshere insists they have not been stung by recent criticism.

"We just get on with it. We know we've got great players here and we showed it today,'' he said. "Theo was great and okay we conceded three and we're not happy about that and we'll look at that but to score seven in any game in the Premier League is a great achievement.''

Arsene Wenger was thrilled with Walcott's performance, although the Frenchman hinted he is not yet ready to pick the 23-year-old in a regular striking berth.

"We cannot ask much more than three goals and the performance he gave today,'' Wenger said. "I said I'm convinced that he can play in there - he has qualities - and he can only improve the more he plays there. He can play in the other position on the left, right or through the middle and it is good because Giroud is basically a centre-forward only so I can play the two together.''

Wenger remains hopeful that Walcott will not leave the Emirates and instead sign a new contract.

The Arsenal manager said: "My desire is to extend his contract. I think he belongs here. Hopefully we can do it. I think he loves the club and the club loves him and the reciprocity in love is the most difficult to find.''

Wenger was also quick to hail Newcastle's resilience, although he lamented his side's slow start.

"It was not as comfortable as the score indicated,'' he added. "We played against a good team. They were always a threat going forwards, they gave us many problems. I believe we started a bit nervous, not completely relaxed, and at half-time 1-1 was a fair result. Second half we were on the ball higher up and were much more dangerous but they always came back.''

Newcastle boss Alan Pardew admitted his side had no energy left in the final 20 minutes of the game.

Despite scoring three goals apiece away at Manchester United on Boxing Day and today at the Emirates Stadium, Pardew's side have come away empty-handed on both occasions.

And the former West Ham and Charlton boss is aware some of his side's defending has been unacceptable.

"The last 15-20 minutes was a fresh team against a tired team and perhaps a bit of inexperience on our bench resulted in the scoreline,'' he said. "We're just so disappointed that we didn't get something out of it before then. The goals we conceded before then were not, not good and that's been our problem.

"For 70 minutes it was pretty tight, I thought we were giving a good account of ourselves but their freshness and the brightness towards the end of the game was just too much for us and we couldn't cope. The game really hurt us today but we know at the back we need to do better.''

Newcastle arrived in north London 24 hours after being branded "a wee club in the north-east'' by Sir Alex Ferguson.

The jibe seemed to rile the Toon players as they responded brilliantly to going behind for each of the Gunners' first three goals.

Pardew refused to speak about Ferguson's comments after the game and admitted he was disappointed that his team did not leave with a point.

The Toon boss thought the reason why Newcastle folded so dramatically was because unlike Arsenal, who had their game against West Ham called off thanks to a Tube strike, his team had to play a draining Boxing Day clash at Manchester United.

"I honestly think that would not have happened. We certainly wouldn't have had a scoreline like we had (if Arsenal had played on Boxing Day,'' said Pardew, whose side now sit three points above the relegation zone. "The (difference in) energy levels between the two teams was evident at the end. One team was energised, the other was really leggy. That's why we ended up with score that we did.''

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