Arsene Wenger believes not signing a striker in the summer has given Theo Walcott the belief he needed to shine in a central role.
The Arsenal boss came under intense scrutiny for not adding to his attacking options at the Emirates Stadium during the transfer window — with only goalkeeper Petr Cech brought in from Chelsea.
Olivier Giroud was seen as Wenger’s main striker but he has given Walcott a run there recently and the England international has seized the opportunity with both hands.
Goals against Leicester and Olympiacos were followed up with a stand-out performance in Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Manchester United before the international break — when Walcott added to his England tally with the opener against Estonia.
He is likely to retain his place as the focal point of Arsenal’s attack when they make the short trip to Watford for today’s late kick-off with Wenger backing the 26-year-old to continue to flourish.
“I believe he can be a central striker,” Wenger said.
“But at the start of the season, I faced questions from everybody: ‘Why don’t you buy a central striker?’ So sometimes you have to have strong beliefs and show the players that you believe in them in that position.
“I always said he will play through the middle and he got his knee injury when he played well through the middle against Tottenham. It took him a while to come back.
“But now in the last two games, the last few games, he looks always dangerous in this position. The quality of his movement is outstanding and he has found his finishing again. Now against Man United he has also found his commitment back.”
Walcott has long since drawn comparisons with Arsenal’s record goalscorer Thierry Henry, who he played with when the Frenchman returned to north London on loan in 2012, and Wenger does not feel that is necessarily a bad thing.
“You cannot stop that,” he said of people drawing similarities.
“I believe that it can be positive as well. One of the important things at a young level, when people are children, is to identify the model of the guys, give a model to compare who looks similar and to copy a little bit the guy who has similar qualities and what he does. It wasn’t negative, but Theo played longer on the flank.
“Let’s not forget how our strikers developed well here. Thierry Henry arrived here and he had not scored goals before and scored plenty here. There are very few examples of players who left us and scored more elsewhere than here. We know how to develop strikers quite well.
“Maybe he can score more goals to chances. He gets a lot of chances, but the finishing is a bit up and down. But what you want from Theo is the commitment he showed against Man United in the challenges. If he adds that to his game then he will be difficult to stop.”
Wenger once again defended his managerial style and his players from further criticism from Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville.
The retired Man United and England full-back has labelled Wenger as arrogant for not signing a suitable replacement for Patrick Vieira and, ahead of the victory over his former club, Neville said Arsenal need to study their opposition more before fixtures — something Wenger rebuffed with a shrug.
“We just turn up on Saturday, just go out and play,” he replied bullishly when asked to reply to Neville’s latest dig.
“Honestly, I am 30 years in this job. I have a good tolerance level to sometimes listen to things that are really ridiculous. Honestly. I can do it.”
After the comprehensive win over United, Arsenal will be favourites to win at Vicarage Road tonight but striker Odion Ighalo believes Watford can cause an upset.
Ighalo said: “It is not going to be easy for us because they are a good team, a Champions League team, and they play some of the best football here in England.
“But we hope to cope with that. We hope to fight until the end. We will see what happens and a positive result would send out a signal to the other teams that they should be careful of Watford.”
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