Chelsea have joined a host of Premier League clubs seeking to capitalise on Theo Walcott's contract stand-off with Arsenal, although the England international may wait until the summer before making a decision on his future.
The 23-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and his refusal to commit to a new deal at Arsenal is adding to Arsène Wenger's problems at The Emirates Stadium. Wenger admitted this week to being "frustrated" at the lack of progress on Walcott's contract, with Arsenal believed to have offered the forward £75,000 a week to extend his six-year stay in north London, but is adamant the club will not cash in on the player during January.
Chelsea are prepared to test Arsenal's resolve with an offer for Walcott. They are likely to be rivalled by Liverpool while both Manchester clubs are also monitoring the situation. Walcott, however, is expected to delay any decision until, as a free agent, he could have his pick of the Premier League's leading clubs and command a lucrative salary.
The forward has repeatedly said money is not the reason for his stand-off with Arsenal but he does want assurances from Wenger about being played as a striker rather than a winger. But Walcott is aware that other clubs will better Arsenal's offer and, as he has settled in the area, Chelsea offer the added attraction of being relatively local.
Champions League football will also be a factor in Walcott's final decision. Arsenal are seventh in the Premier League, albeit only two points off the final qualification place, and have participated in the Champions League for 15 consecutive seasons, while Manchester United, City and Chelsea are on course to qualify for next season.
Liverpool's absence from the European elite counts against them but the manager, Brendan Rodgers, who shares an agent with Walcott, will persist with attempts to lure the former Southampton player to the club he supported as a boy. Rodgers is prepared for Arsenal to reject their last chance to secure a fee for Walcott in January, however, and has lined up deals for Chelsea's £12m-rated Daniel Sturridge and Blackpool's Thomas Ince next month. The Liverpool manager hopes signs of progress at Anfield this season, with a top-four finish still a target, will improve his prospects of signing Walcott in the summer. Liverpool have also secured the second-choice goalkeeper Brad Jones on a new long-term contract.
Walcott's options are not limited to the Premier League. Several Italian clubs, including the champions, Juventus, have inquired about the England international's availability and are willing to offer superior terms than Arsenal to entice the player to Serie A. Juventus are believed to be prepared to pay Walcott – who is the latest in a long line of assets that Arsenal have allowed to approach the end of their contracts – £90,000-a-week should he move to Turin.