London: Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has warned Theo Walcott that his contract negotiations could end up affecting team selection if the situation drags on for the rest of the season.
Walcott's current deal with the Gunners expires at the end of this season and negotiations have reached a stalemate, raising fears the England winger could become the latest star name to quit the north London club over the last 12 months.
Wenger has already been forced to let Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie leave against his wishes and, with Liverpool and Manchester City interested in Walcott, he doesn't want the contract talks to end in a repeat of those departures.
The 23-year-old could potentially sign a lucrative pre-contract agreement with another club in January and Wenger admitted that, should the situation drag on, he may reconsider how best to utilise the player later in the season.
"It can (change selection policy), but at the moment I still hope to extend his contract so at the moment, it doesn't affect me. Of course at some stage...," Wenger was quoted as saying in several English newspapers on Tuesday.
"If in April it (the contract) is not done, you can think it will be difficult to do."
Walcott has not started a match since the opening day 0-0 draw against Sunderland and received a mixed reception from some sections of the Emirates Stadium crowd when coming on to score the final goal in Saturday's 6-1 win over his former club Southampton.
But Wenger called on the fans to lay off Walcott and backed the winger to cope with the boo-boys.
"You want your players to be supported no matter what kind if contractual situation they are in," Wenger added.
"I hope it will not affect him and that it will not affect our fans.
"Theo has gone through a lot at 23 years of age. A lot of positives, a lot of negatives and he is level-headed.
"We are lucky: I don't know what they do at Southampton, but they bring players out, (Alex Oxlade) Chamberlain and him, with their feet on the ground."