Walcott's striking influence

Arsenal scored first in Saturday's 2-0 win against Stoke through Theo Walcott (right) but Arsene Wenger wants more sharpness in attack.
Arsenal scored first in Saturday's 2-0 win against Stoke through Theo Walcott (right) but Arsene Wenger wants more sharpness in attack.PHOTO: REUTERS

Goal against Stoke prompts Wenger's belief that he can emerge as a 'prolific goal-scorer'

LONDON • Arsenal manager 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 Oezil 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 goal-scorer because every game you see how many chances he gets, so the (greater the) belief he has that he can score, then the more he will score."

The Arsenal manager was equally delighted with his back line after a second clean sheet in a row.

"I believe we have stabilised our defence," the Frenchman said. "We did not concede against Newcastle and now Stoke (so) 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 too, 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 would not 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.

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 we 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."

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

"It has been stop-start and that affected us," he said. "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."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2015, with the headline 'Walcott's striking influence'. Print Edition | Subscribe