Wenger warming to Walcott's new role
Published 29/12/2012 | 07:10
Wenger has acquiesced to Walcott's demands to play a more central role in the last two weeks and the move has paid off handsomely. The 23-year-old scored in the Gunners' 5-2 victory over Reading and then won the penalty that handed Arsenal their vital win over Wigan last weekend.
"I like what I have seen of Theo through the middle," Wenger said. "It's an interesting challenge (for him). I think he can take it on."
Wenger has been reluctant to deploy Walcott as a striker in the past, but he now appears content to give the England international an extended run up front in the hope that he can turn himself in to a clinical finisher in the same way that club record scorer Henry did.
And Wenger thinks the influence of Henry, who has been training at Arsenal's London Colney base in recent weeks, has helped the former Southampton forward adapt to his new role.
"Thierry gives him advice, which is always important and Theo is a very intelligent boy," Wenger said. "He understands very quickly when you tell him something and that's why I think he can do very well in this position.
"He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before."
Wenger reiterated his hope that Walcott will sign a new deal. The Arsenal boss has imposed a New Year's Day deadline on negotiations, although Wenger has indicated he will not sell Walcott in January even if it means losing him for free in the summer.
Wenger denied that playing Walcott through the middle for the last two matches would help his chances of keeping the player, but he does remain confident of holding on to him.
"No I don't think (playing him as a striker will impact on negotiations)," Wenger said. "I want him to stay and I want him to extend his contract and I have always been consistent on that. Yes (talks are ongoing) and yes (I remain optimistic he will sign)."