Theo Walcott has been taking advice on how to play through the middle from Thierry Henry, the former Arsenal forward who is training at London Colney. Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, insisted on Friday that Walcott would continue as a striker for the next few games rather than as a winger.
Henry, Arsenal's record goalscorer now with New York Red Bulls, has been visiting his old club and maintaining his fitness during the MLS off-season. Wenger did not preclude the possibility of signing Henry for a third time, pointing out that the 35 year-old was "in better physical shape" than when he returned to Arsenal on loan last January.
Whether he re-signs or not, Henry has already had an impact, assisting Walcott's development again. "He gives him advice,'' said Wenger, speaking at Colney yesterday. "It's always important. Theo is a very intelligent boy. He understands very quickly when you tell him something and that's why I think he can do very well in this position."
Walcott played centrally in -Arsenal's past two games, the wins against Reading and Wigan Athletic. "I like the signs I have seen," said Wenger, who was then asked whether Walcott could play "in every game" up front. "If you look at my statements I always said that one day he would play through the middle and it grew in his brain. He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before. The fact that you play in other positions as well helps your technique. From 19 to 23, Theo has learnt a lot. Now we will sometimes play him on the flanks, sometimes through the middle. I like what I have seen through the middle."
It is hardly a new experience for Walcott, who played through the middle for Southampton before joining Arsenal in 2006. Walcott's ability to play as a striker, a position he has publicly craved, would not necessarily influence the current protracted contract talks, according to Wenger. "No, I don't think so. I want him to stay and I want him to extend his contract."
Wisely, Wenger urged people to avoid any comparisons between -Walcott and his predecessor in the No?14 shirt. "It's a bit early to -compare him to Thierry Henry. Let's not put him under too much pressure. He has played two games and you have to be open-minded in our job and give people a chance. If they take it it's good. If they don't he will still be a fantastic winger, so it puts some more assets in his game. I am confident he will do well."
Wenger made the point that -Arsenal play a different system to when Henry was in his predatory pomp. "Before we had more specialists in midfield. We had [Patrick] Vieira and Gilberto [Silva] in midfield so you could play with more strikers. Now we have Wilshere, Arteta, Cazorla, Chamberlain and Podolski. It's difficult to find the balance defensively."
Olivier Giroud is available to face Newcastle today after recovering from his recent bout of illness but Wenger indicated that central role was earmarked for Walcott.
Wenger has been linked with recruiting a striker in the January window like Barcelona's David Villa or Newcastle's Demba Ba. "If you ask me 'Do we sign Demba Ba?' I say no," said Wenger, who then pointed out the problems of finding top attacking talent.
"It is difficult. Manchester United bought Robin van Persie for pounds 24 million and he is 29 years old. They have scouts all over the world. They looked everywhere. Don't think that they just came in and bought Van Persie, they looked everywhere else. But to find the quality of striker that would strengthen a top Premier League team at the moment in the world is difficult."
He remarked that an alternative could be "to find him inside" the club. That could mean either Walcott or Henry. On Henry, Wenger said: "I've not lost interest in him. He's still coming today to practise with us. You have to be cautious that it's not one time too many."
Wenger admitted that he will be busy in January. He had "not had a call from Reading" about Andrei Arshavin but "if he finds a solution that is satisfying for him and for us we will consider it". Wenger is also open to offers for another striker, Marouane Chamakh.