Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits there is an "urgency" to conclude Theo Walcott's contract negotiations one way or another.

The England forward, fit again from a chest injury suffered on international duty against San Marino, netted a hat-trick in the Gunners' stunning 7-5 Capital One Cup win at Reading in midweek.

It was a rare start for the 23-year-old, who has been restricted to mainly substitute appearances this season.

Walcott's current deal expires in the summer, and as yet there has been no positive conclusion as negotiations continue with the parties still some distance apart over wages.

Wenger has always stressed the club's desire to keep the player and would prefer a swift conclusion.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's Barclays Premier League trip to Manchester United , he said: "There is urgency, how much I don't know, but there is urgency.

"We want to sort it out before Christmas, one way or the other."

Should an agreement not be reached by January, Walcott would be free to open negotiations with overseas clubs to potentially sign a lucrative pre-contract agreement on a Bosman transfer.

Asked if Arsenal would have to sell Walcott if no deal was signed by the start of 2013, Wenger said: "I would not like to.

"I have not even thought about that, because at the moment I think we will still manage to make a deal with him."

Another issue of contention with Walcott is understood to be his desire to play as a central striker, rather than being utilised down the flank.

Wenger feels Walcott will eventually be deployed in his preferred attacking role, as he was to devastating impact at Reading, but called for patience.

"I always said it is important that he plays in the right position and that certainly would be through the middle in the future, he showed that again on Tuesday night," Wenger said.

"The positions on the flanks are changing, you need to do a lot of defending. He should be dedicated more to offensive work."

Wenger added: "I have always come out publicly and said that I see him in the future through the middle as well. He loves to score goals, Theo.

"He has good pace, [makes] excellent, intelligent runs, and what has changed with Theo is he's [become] a very good finisher."

Arsenal head to Schalke for a Champions League tie on Tuesday night, so Wenger will take that into consideration ahead of the Manchester United game.

Winger Gervinho is expected to be out for around three weeks with an ankle problem, while goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, full-back Kieran Gibbs and midfielder Abou Diaby remain unavailable.

The Gunners are likely to come up against former captain Robin van Persie for the first time on Saturday since his £24million summer transfer.

The Dutch forward could be in for a hard time from the travelling support, but Wenger feels Arsenal fans should remember the forward's contribution during his eight seasons at the club, scoring 132 goals - 37 of which came last season to help secure third place.

"I hope it is a respectful one because he has played for us for eight years, he has done very well for us," said Wenger.

"You want him to be respected.

"We campaign against discrimination, it was still the case last week so why should it not be the case this week?

"I don't know [what the fans will do], I think he will get the reception I hope for."