Arsene Wenger denies treating Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott as second-class players at Arsenal

Jon West
The Independent
An alarming slump has serious questions being asked of the Gunners, with those on and off the field being forced to shoulder responsibility

Under-fire Wenger backed by Koscielny amid Arsenal blame game

An alarming slump has serious questions being asked of the Gunners, with those on and off the field being forced to shoulder responsibility

Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott start only in cup ties at Arsenal right now but Arsene Wenger has denied he is treating them as second-class players.

The two men could be forgiven for having the World Cup on their minds instead of tonight's dead rubber of a Europa League tie at home to BATE Borisov.

Walcott is out of the England picture because of a lack of significant game time and Giroud has been warned a similar fate could await him by Guy Stephan, Didier Deschamps' right-hand man in the France camp.

Giroud and Walcott have 638 Arsenal appearances between them, plus a total of 116 international caps, yet neither has been on the pitch at the beginning of a Premier League game this season.

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Wenger has continued to pick Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for league games despite the fact that both remain on course to be free agents at the end of the season, while the £52m arrival of Alexandre Lacazette has supplanted Giroud. Yet Wenger argued that he and Walcott had no cause to feel they were now bit-part players.

"They shouldn’t," he said. "Because that’s not how I see it. Even inside the camp the other players have a respect for them. But sometimes the outside environment makes them look like that.

"When the team does well you keep a certain consistency. That doesn’t mean that the players who do not play, you respect them less. You respect people through their attitude and their attitude is fantastic.

"When you pick a team you do not necessarily look how long a contract is. The shorter the contract is, the more hungry the players are usually. The hunger index drops with the length of the contract."

Especially if a player is trying to secure a lucrative one elsewhere perhaps, but Wenger made it clear he would not let Walcott or Giroud leave in January to boost their chances of reaching Russia.

"We have qualified now for the Europa League and that means we do not want to reduce the squad," Wenger said.

"We are still in the League Cup still, the FA Cup is still to come, the Europa League to come and we have the Premier League where we have a big fight to be in the top four. You do not want to become weaker."

What if Walcott pushed for a Joe Hart-style loan move as one last roll of the dice to try to impress Gareth Southgate? The answer is likely to be no.

"I have to consider the interest of the player but dominant of that will be the interests of the club," Wenger said: "If you can combine the two it is even better but first is what is important for the club."

Walcott and Giroud's fears about their careers are not as serious as the worries of Santi Cazorla, Wenger added.

The Spain midfielder has now undergone nine operations on an Achilles tendon and Wenger's hopes of a February return seem optimistic to say the least.

"What he has gone through, this guy, is unbelievable," Wenger said. "We speak about players happy or not happy, that is a real pain because it is really, really sad but unfortunately he has to start again from zero.

"That means if all goes well he has to wait until he can run and after when he starts to run it will be at least six weeks to come back to training. When he will be able to run again I don't know."

Predicted line-ups

Arsenal (3-4-2-1): D Ospina — M Debuchy, P Mertesacker, R Holding — R Nelson, M Elneny, J Willock, A Maitland-Niles — T Walcott, J Wilshere — O Giroud.

BATE Borisov (4-2-3-1): D Scherbitski — A Rios, J Buljat, N Milunovic, D Polyakov - A Volodko, S Dragun - M Gordeichuk, M Ivanic, I Stasevich - V Rodionov

Referee: Robert Schörgenhofer (Austria)

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