LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 7- Arsene Wenger has vowed to continue playing Theo Walcott as a striker despite the player claiming he now wants to be deployed out wide.
After years of trying to convince the Arsenal manager that he can lead the line, Walcott backtracked last week by saying he wants to be known for playing on the right wing.
The 27-year-old started as a striker in Friday’s 8-0 thrashing of Norwegian side Viking, scoring and making one, though Wenger had few options given Danny Welbeck’s long-term injury and Olivier Giroud not due to start training until Monday.
‘I believe [Walcott] has all the ingredients to become a great striker,’ said Wenger.
‘He has the quality of the runs, he is a very intelligent player and he’s a good finisher.
‘He’s not a great defender, so I believe to use his runs in the final third could be very efficient.
‘Scoring goals and playing there will give confidence and slowly convince him, maybe, he can be absolutely fantastic there.
‘On the flank, today, you need to do so much defensive work that you lose a lot of his qualities. I don’t rule it out, but for me I will use him more up front.’
Walcott’s omission from England’s Euro 2016 squad came as a crushing blow to his confidence and may have caused his positional rethink.
But Wenger believes the real decline in his self-belief came during Arsenal’s 3-2 defeat at Manchester United in February.
‘That was a game where everyone questioned him in that position,’ said Wenger. ‘It wasn’t only Theo Walcott who didn’t perform well — it was everybody. But from then, people became sceptical.
‘He is a confidence player. A year ago he was more confident to play through the middle, so I’m convinced the fact he didn’t go to the Euros changed his mind. It was a big blow for him.
‘But Theo is intelligent, he analyses well what happens to him and mentally he is very strong. The way he is practising, I’m positive we can get a great season from him.’
Wenger hopes to sign another striker, with Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette a target.
But Alexis Sanchez, who is coming back from an ankle injury, is set to be tried up front in his first appearance of pre-season against Manchester City in Gothenburg on Sunday night.
Midfielder Aaron Ramsey will also make his first appearance since playing for Wales at Euro 2016, a week before their Premier League opener against Liverpool.