Wenger backs Walcott to lead attack amid Tottenham controversy
Manager Arsene Wenger is in no doubt Theo Walcott has what it takes to lead the Arsenal attack - but might have to do without the England forward in the next few weeks following a controversial end to the 2-0 FA Cup third-round win over Tottenham.
Walcott suffered a knee injury during the closing stages of Saturday's north-London derby at the Emirates Stadium, which was settled by fine finishes from Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky in each half as Spurs suffered their first defeat under new boss Tim Sherwood.
The England forward had caused problems for central defensive duo Michael Dawson and Vlad Chiriches with his pace all afternoon and on another day might have plundered a hat-trick.
Walcott's "2-0" hand gesture towards the 5,000 travelling supports amassed in the Clock End then made further headlines as objects, including coins and plastic bottles, were thrown at the stretcher and hit medical staff as they carried it around towards the tunnel on the half-way line.
Walcott is expected to avoid an FA sanction over the incident but could be sidelined anyway for a spell should his knee problem prove severe.
Wenger, though, is confident the 24-year-old has what it takes to give Arsenal a different option down the middle to lead frontman Olivier Giroud, who missed out against Spurs because of illness.
"I liked what Theo did because he played before in that role, but against Spurs he added purpose and commitment, more decisiveness to his game and a more fighting attitude," said Wenger, who revealed Denmark forward Nicklas Bendtner would be sidelined for up to a month with an ankle injury suffered when scoring in the 2-0 win over Cardiff.
"With that, he looks every time like he improves in that position and with the quality of players behind him, he can be very dangerous in that position."
Wenger accepts it is not the ideal time to be shopping for the required calibre of player to boost the Arsenal squad as they look to sustain their Barclays Premier League title challenge through to May, but if his attacking options are further depleted then there could be little option but to strengthen this month.
The Gunners boss had utilised his full squad for the FA Cup tie, with teenager Serge Gnabry one of several fringe players drafted in, while captain Thomas Vermaelen started in central defence only to go off at half-time with a knee problem and fit-again club-record signing Mesut Ozil was introduced as a late substitute to underline Arsenal's new-found strength in depth.
The 18-year-old German produced a lively display from midfield and it was his determined run on 31 minutes which saw the ball pushed out to Cazorla to fire an angled drive back past Hugo Lloris.
"He has had some good games but maybe we were not at home," said Wenger of the Arsenal Academy product.
"Gnabry played well at Swansea, at Crystal palace, and overall against Spurs he has shown that he is quality.
"He is a very young boy but he has the quality, is bright and he has a good football brain."
Wenger continued: "I am a strong believer in Serge because I integrated him at the start of last season, but let's not make superstars with one game.
"The top level is [about] consistency but I believe the ingredients are there. He has to show he can turn up with these performances in every game."
Cazorla knows Arsenal must maintain their momentum when Premier League action resumes at Aston Villa on Monday January 13.
"We played at a good level and we just need to continue that now," he said on the Arsenal website, www.arsenal.com.
"Now we have a rest for a week and then we are away at Aston Villa - we need to win that."