Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger last night insisted the club are doing all they can to keep ex-Saints starlet Theo Walcott as he stressed the ongoing contract wrangle must be settled ''one way or another'' before the new year.
The England forward took his tally to eight goals for the season with the opening strike in the midweek Champions League draw at Schalke.
It was a rare start for the 23-year-old, who has seen his first-team chances restricted to mostly being utilised as an impact player from the bench.
The player's current deal expires next summer, with his representatives and the club still some distance apart over wages and Walcott also expressing concerns over opportunities in his preferred central role.
If no deal can be brokered before January, Walcott would be able to negotiate a potentially lucrative pre-contract agreement with a foreign club or just hold firm and walk away on a Bosman free.
While Wenger would prefer the situation not to get to that point, the Arsenal manager accepts a line must soon be drawn.
''My desire is to keep Theo. We do what's needed to keep him and hopefully _as_ I told you many times, we can sort this situation out very soon - very soon is before the end of December, one way or another, that is for sure,'' said Wenger.
The Gunners boss was at Great Ormond Street Hospital this afternoon along with Jack Wilshere and Carl Jenkinson to help open the Arsenal Lung Function Unit.
On Walcott, he added: ''I don't want to go into any details (over wage negotiations), but you can believe me (that) we do the maximum we can to keep our best players.''