Arsene Wenger won't sell Giroud or Walcott in January to 'become weaker'
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger is confident he can keep both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud at the club in January despite their lack of playing time, saying they're both needed as Arsenal try to compete in four competitions.
Walcott and Giroud are expected to start in Thursday's Europa League match against BATE Borisov, but both have been linked with moves away from the Emirates in the January transfer window after struggling to get chances in the Premier League.
The pair have mainly been used in the midweek cup games, and both could see their 2018 World Cup chances dwindle if they can't break into Wenger's first XI. But the Arsenal boss was adamant that he won't put them up for sale in January.
"I want to keep the squad. We qualify now for the Europa League [knockout rounds], that means we do not want to reduce the squad," he told a news conference. "We have the League Cup, we are still in it, we have the FA Cup to come, we have the Europa League to come, we have the Premier League where we have a big fight to be in the top four. We do not want to become weaker.
"Look, I have to consider the interests of the player. But dominant of that will be the interests of the club. If you can combine the two, that's even better. But first is what is important for the club."
Wenger admitted that Walcott is "frustrated" with his lack of chances, but also insisted that he is "more determined than ever" to prove his worth.
Walcott is one of several players whose contract only has another 18 months to go; Wenger, though, wouldn't say whether he will offer the winger a new deal. "That's difficult for me to answer that today. First of all the player has to be happy to come to the table, and analyse his situation. I haven't started yet," he said.
Wenger also rejected recent claims made by France's assistant coach, Guy Stephan, that Giroud's playing time has been "insufficient" and that the striker should consider leaving Arsenal in search of more regular starts ahead of the World Cup.
Wenger pointed out that while Giroud has lost his Premier League starting role to new signing Alexandre Lacazette, he actually has more total minutes this season because of his starts in other competitions.
"I can give you the example that Giroud has played more minutes than Lacazette. So, his statement was not absolutely right," said Wenger, who has regularly substituted Lacazette in the second half of league games. "Why did he say that? At least it is not backed by the numbers. He wants to say maybe that he should play more in the Premier League. There he has a case, but competition is competition."
Both Giroud and Walcott could possibly see more playing time in the league over the next month during the busy holiday period, but will probably have to accept being backups if they do stay in January. However, Wenger praised the pair for their attitude and ability to cope with the lack of opportunities.
"You cannot keep players happy. But they deal well with it, and that's a problem we all have to deal with as a player," he said. "They fight, and I must say, what is remarkable, this is a job where you have always to be ready.
"When you're called up, you have to be ready. And some manage to do it, some not. And in the squad this season, more than ever, I cannot see any weakness in anybody's motivation and quality in training."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.