Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna have been omitted from Arsenal’s official 2013 calendar, fuelling speculation they will become the next big-name players to leave the club.
Walcott, who had been on the front cover in each of the previous four calendars, is stalling on a new five-year deal worth £75 000 a week.
Meanwhile, Sagna’s future remains far from certain as he enters the final 18 months of his contract.
Manager Arsene Wenger said the club had started talks with the France full back.
“We are hopeful. He had some big injury issues but with him and (Carl) Jenkinson, you need two players and we want to keep them,” he said.
But Inter Milan want to sign the right back with Arsenal ready to listen to offers for Sagna next year if a new deal cannot be agreed.
But it is the absence of Walcott from the calendar that will cause the biggest stir given his status as one of Arsenal’s poster boys.
Thomas Vermaelen, Mikel Arteta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Wojciech Szczesny, Aaron Ramsey, Andre Santos, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker have all been included.
It is the latest controversy around an Arsenal product. In September, the club sent out “Junior Gunner” membership packs with Robin van Persie on the front, despite the fact he had left the club in August, causing major discontent among fans.
But while Arsenal insisted the omission of Walcott and Sagna from the calendar bears no indication over their futures, it has done little to dampen the growing dissent at the north London club with Wenger being heckled by his own supporters at Villa Park during the dour goalless draw on Saturday.
And there is little sign of the Frenchman bowing to fans’ demands to splash cash on big-name signings, with Wenger hitting out at football's lavish spending again as he criticised excessive wage demands.
The Arsenal boss has £150million in sponsorship cash from Emirates which he wants to spend “in the right way”.
The club agreed a deal with long-term partners Emirates Airlines last week which sees a lucrative sponsorship extension earning the club around £30m a year.
But Wenger believes many transfers are now being blown out of proportion by players’ salaries rising.
He said: “If we get that amount of money from sponsors it is not charity, it is because the sponsors feel that we act in the right way and with the right values. They reward that.
“Afterwards it is down to us to spend the money in the right way.
“There are two aspects to any deal; one is the transfer (fee) and the other is the wages,” he said.
“The transfers for these kinds of players are not at £30 million today, they are at £50million or £60million and what has gone through the roof is the wages of these players.
“That is why people plead for financial fair play. Some clubs even pleaded that the new television money (for Premier League clubs) should not be used to increase wages because it gives huge problems to everybody.”
Wenger is likely to move for a forward when the January transfer window opens, with a short-term loan move for Thierry Henry remaining a possibility, as well as a bid for Crystal Palace’s promising youngster Wilfried Zaha.
As always, Wenger stressed any new addition must bring added value to the group.
“If we find the real top, top, top player then we will be on the market,” he added.
“We have no fixed number, we look just at quality. We have a good squad, I believe that these players have a fantastic attitude.
“They deserve success and they will have success.”
But some sections of the Arsenal support would appear not to share that faith as Wenger came in for criticism during the draw at Villa Park. Chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” greeted the 86th-minute substitution of striker Olivier Giroud for defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin late in the game against Villa.
But Wenger’s focus remains unmoved.
“My job is to give full commitment to this club, with integrity. That’s what I always do without expecting any return,” he said.
“I don’t want to comment on that (the chants). I just make sure that I do my job properly, that’s what I do.” – Daily Mail