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Football | Barclays Premier League

Wenger backs Walcott



The jury is still out on Theo Walcott as a striker, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is not about to jump to conclusions on the strength of a couple of games.

The England international and his team-mates have an unexpected Christmas break, a strike on the London Underground train network having forced the postponement of Wednesday's London derby against West Ham.

It gives Wenger the best part of a week to consider Walcott's role in the second half of a season that is suddenly shaping up well for Arsenal in the wake of their shock League Cup defeat by fourth-tier side Bradford City, albeit on penalties.

The Gunners have since won 5-2 at Reading and claimed a somewhat fortuitous 1-0 victory over Wigan on Saturday, courtesy of a questionable penalty award.

Walcott played a key role at Reading, where he scored the clinching goal after the home side's fightback from 4-0 behind, but looked less inspiring against Wigan.

The fascinating aspect of Walcott's ambition to play as a central striker is that his contract is running down without him having signed a new one and tempting offers might include the carrot of playing in his favoured position.

Wenger, who has said he will not sell Walcott in January, said: "I believe he has potential in that position, I wouldn't like to judge him on one game. He didn't get the service at Wigan but his finishing was good and was effective.

"He was possibly a bit isolated, but for me he has the ingredients to play in there.

"He can always be decisive even if he doesn't have the greatest service. At Wigan he made the decision because he got the penalty."

Wenger would far rather be schooling his players on how to deal with Sam Allardyce's tactics at West Ham than giving them Christmas Day off.

He admitted: "I would prefer to play, personally. When a team is on a roll you want them to go out and play. But we can adapt. We'll play it at the end of January."

Arsenal's next game, with or without Walcott as spearhead, is at Newcastle United's St James' Park stronghold but will hold no fears for Wenger as he sets about securing a Champions League berth.

He said: "This is an important period of the season now. But our record away from home is very good if you look at it. We've only lost two games, at Man United and Norwich, since the beginning of the season.

"At Wigan we wanted the result, there was more determination than domination in the final part of the game.

"I hope that gives us a bit more belief and confidence, and that we can play with a more positive attitude. We had to show nerve and we did it."

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez meanwhile is expecting the loan services of Manchester United's 18-year-old Chilean striker Angelo Henriquez when the transfer window opens on January 1.

Martinez has been badly hit by injuries in his attempt to hoist Wigan out of the relegation zone -- he currently has four centre-halves missing --and is pleased to be getting highly-rated reinforcements from Old Trafford.

The Wigan manager said: "He is someone who can bring us goals and we are delighted. We're looking forward to seeing him develop and challenge for a place at United.

"It's a similar situation to when we loaned Tom Cleverley. Angelo is an experienced talent."

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