Arsene Wenger believes the departure of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would do “big damage” to Arsenal as he called on the midfielder to stay at the Emirates Stadium.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has been with the Gunners since signing from Southampton in 2011, but is out of contract at the end of next season.
Wenger is eager not to lose the 23-year-old, who is one of a group of first-team players – including Kieran Gibbs, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez – to have a deal due to expire in 2018, with all negotiations on hold until the end of 2016-17.
“I personally think it is vital that Chamberlain stays at Arsenal,” Wenger told reporters.
“We bought him when he was very young, we have built him up and I think he has a great mentality.
“I like his mentality and he has a good football brain. It would be a big damage for us to lose this kind of player.”
Wenger insists decisions on the size of the offers given to Oxlade-Chamberlain and the other players with 12 months left on their contracts will not be delayed once the season comes to a close.
“It will be done this year,” said Wenger. “We can’t let players go into the final year of their deals. Things will get sorted out during the summer.
“We have a group of young English players. We need to make decisions on Ramsey, Chamberlain, Wilshere and Gibbs this summer and manage to keep them together.
“First of all we need to keep the good players and it is also important they also have the culture of the club.
“In an inflationary market we have to consider the situation as a whole. We have to dedicate the money for everybody.”
Wenger’s declaration on wanting to keep Oxlade-Chamberlain comes despite him only being handed a start in 12 Premier League matches this season.
“He is very critical of himself and he works on it,” said Wenger. “He is one of the guys who sometimes is too harsh with his own performance.
“You can see he is blaming himself on the pitch sometimes when he misses something. You are always in the game when it’s always the next job.
“You can see sometimes the fact that he is still in what he has missed when he gets the ball again. He works on that and I think he has improved a lot.”
The Frenchman is considering moving the England international into a central role.
“I think so, that is what I have always had in mind,” said Wenger. “I played him a few times a few years ago and I think he did well. When I didn’t play Ozil I had to find a combination with him in central midfield. He is offensive.
“He can lose balls but defensively he is strong in the challenge when he wants to switch on. He has that kind of robustness to deal with body to body, which is very important in the Premier League.
“You can see as well he is a guy who can get out of pressure. He has a dribbling skill and acceleration that can get you out of pressure. He can penetrate.
“In midfield that is important. I felt as well sometimes on the flank he is out of the game – but in the middle he is more focused. He needs to be involved in the game.”
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