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Chelsea out to maul Black Cats

Chelsea 23 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Jan 20, 2006

Gunners winning the race to sign Walcott

Arsenal could unveil Theo Walcott as their latest signing later today if, as expected, their bid to land the Southampton starlet proves successful.

Wenger last night confirmed the Gunners were 'very heavily in the race' to land the £12million-rated teenager, and they could present the 16-year-old at the regular pre-match press conference, scheduled to take place at 12:30pm.

As a public limited company, Southampton are obliged to inform the London Stock Exchange when any deal has been completed - and that could happen first thing this morning before trading re-opens.

The Coca-Cola Championship club confirmed earlier this week bids from two 'top Premiership clubs' had been received.

Chelsea are believed to be the other interested party, while Tottenham manager Martin Jol yesterday revealed his club have also inquired about the teenager's availability.

Arsenal, though, seem to be at the head of the queue, with a reported £12million package having been agreed for the 16-year-old, who is thought to be keenest on furthering his career while in north London.

Wenger said: 'We are very heavily in the race. But nothing is done - and as long as nothing is signed, you cannot talk about it.'

He told his club's official website: 'However, we are hoping to get a decision in the next 24 hours.'

It is that opportunity to further his career with regular, rather than sporadic, tastes of first-team football for Arsenal which looks to have proven key to Walcott's decision.

A player of his age can sign a deal for a maximum of three years, with the option to extend the contract in the near future.

Walcott, though, cannot technically sign a professional contract with Gunners until his 17th birthday on March 16.

Wenger last week admitted allowing the young striker to stay at St Mary's for the rest of the season would 'not be a deal breaker'.

But latest indications are that such an arrangement is now a non-starter, with the Arsenal manager keen Walcott should not risk injury by playing too many Championship matches.

It is, however, in defence where Wenger is in need of re-enforcements ahead of tomorrow's trip to Goodison Park to face Everton.

England left-back Ashley Cole has suffered a thigh strain on his return following three-and-a-half months out with a fractured foot, while Pascal Cygan has already been ruled out for around three weeks with a hamstring injury.

Gael Clichy (foot) remains sidelined, while centre-back Sol Campbell (ankle) faces a fitness test.

Wenger said: 'Unfortunately Ashley will not be ready for Everton and Pascal Cygan is out, so that gives us quite a problem in the left-back position.

'Kerrea Gilbert could be back, but I don't know if I'll play him there or somebody else. Sol Campbell will have a test,' added the Arsenal manager, missing the likes of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue because of the African Nations Cup.

Wenger continued: 'Dennis Bergkamp will be available again.

'Robin van Persie is back in training, but I don't think he will be competitive for Everton. He has a good chance to play against Wigan.'