Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists he still views Theo Walcott as a central striker and that his poor defensive qualities make him less effective as a winger.
Walcott said during the Gunners’ recent tour of the United States that he wants to go back to playing on the right wing this season after struggling to get playing time up front and being left out of England’s squad for the European Championship.
But Wenger, who started last season with Walcott up front before going back to Olivier Giroud in that role, said Saturday that he still intends to play the pacey forward as a striker.
“I believe he has all the ingredients to be a great striker. He has the quality of his runs, he’s a very intelligent players, he’s a good finisher,” Wenger said ahead of Sunday’s preseason game against Manchester City in southern Sweden. “He’s not a great defender so to use his runs in the final third for us could be very efficient.
“On the flank today so much defensive work is asked of the players. You lose a lot of his qualities when you put him there. I don’t really doubt that for me, in my head I will use him more up front.”
Walcott has played up front in all four of Arsenal’s preseason games so far this summer, but had to wait until Friday’s 8-0 rout of Norwegian side Viking to score his first goal. He finished last season with only five league goals, and didn’t start a Premier League game after a heavily criticised performance in the Gunners’ 3-2 loss at Manchester United in February, which began a poor run of results that saw them fall out of the title race.
“Especially one game that was a question for Theo Walcott was at Man United, where everyone questioned him in his position,” Wenger said. “Because on the day he didn’t perform well. But it was not only Theo Walcott who didn’t have a great game, it was everybody. But from then on people became sceptical.”
Walcott had spent several years lobbying for the chance to be used regularly as a striker, before saying this week that “I’ve told the manager that I want to be known for playing on the right again, although I can play up front.”
And Wenger said he thinks missing out on Euro 2016 because of a lack of playing time has made Walcott reconsider.
“A year ago, he was more confident to play more through the middle,” Wenger said. “And I’m sure that that changed his mind, the fact that he was not selected for the Euros was a big blow for him.”