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Wenger backs Walcott to thrive upfront

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Arsenal's Theo Walcott celebrates his goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium, in London, Britain, 12 September 2015. PHOTO/EFE

Arsenal’s Theo Walcott celebrates his goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Arsenal and Stoke City at the Emirates Stadium, in London, Britain, 12 September 2015. PHOTO/EFE

LONDON, September 13- Arsene Wenger is convinced Theo Walcott can become a prolific striker after the England international scored the opener in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Stoke.

Olivier Giroud came off the bench to grab the Gunners’ decisive second goal five minutes from time as Stoke suffered an eighth consecutive defeat at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

But Wenger was most encouraged by the way Walcott netted his first goal of the campaign when he latched onto a long ball forward from Mesut Ozil and fired home in the 31st minute.

Despite the Gunners missing a raft of chances, Wenger was pleased with many aspects of the victory and believes Walcott, usually deployed as a winger, will benefit from the boost in confidence he will gain from playing regularly in the central striker’s role.

“Theo can find little pockets of space, which he did against a very organised, compact Stoke defence,” Wenger said.

“He scored a very good goal which needed technical quality. Theo gets chances.

“I believe he can become a prolific goalscorer because every game you see how many chances he gets so the bigger belief he has that he can score then the more he will score.”

Wenger was equally delighted with his back line after a second clean sheet in a row.

“I believe we have stabilised our defence,” he said. “We did not concede against Newcastle and now Stoke, that bodes well for the future.

“The centre-halves looked very strong, (Laurent) Koscielny was outstanding, Gabriel played well and (Francis) Coquelin played very well in front of them to so we had a good triangle in the middle there.”

Arsenal now face Dynamo Zagreb in the Champions League and then struggling English champions Chelsea within a week and Wenger hinted he wouldn’t use Walcott up front in both games.

“We play a game every three days and while it helps for a striker to keep playing and scoring for their confidence, you can’t keep playing the same player every three days, especially up front,” he said.

– Critical –

The victory kept Arsenal in touch with early leaders Manchester City, but Wenger still wants his team to be sharper in front of goal.

“We are looking first to play well against Dynamo Zagreb. It is important to not lose your first game in the Champions League, then we will see what we can do against Chelsea,” he added.

“It is only five games but when you lose your first home game it was difficult to predict where will be now.

“We played the football we wanted to play and created plenty of chances. If you want to be critical you can say there was too big a difference between the amount of chances we created and the goals we scored.”

Meanwhile, Stoke manager Mark Hughes blamed the international break and transfer turmoil for his side’s woeful showing.

“There has been a turnover of players, said Hughes. “It has been stop-start and that affected us.

“The international break has affected us. We had that edge taken away perhaps by the travelling, although it didn’t seem to affect Arsenal too much.

“We have two home games coming up and a whole week with our players to get some good work in with the guys.”

Hughes tried to focus on the few Stoke bright spots and added: “Jack Butland once again showed what an outstanding goalkeeper he is.

“As the season progresses he may not as many opportunities to be man of the match but at the moment he has had too much to do.

“We let (Asmir) Begovic go to Chelsea because he had Jack and it was important he knew we had trust and confidence in him.

“The only other positive on the day was the reintroduction of Bojan, which I’m delighted to see him back.

“On a day of negatives they were two positives for us.”

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