Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Wenger drops transfer hints as he ponders Alexis or Walcott up front

Morning all, a quick Sunday round-up for you on the day of our final pre-season fixture. We face Man City in Sweden later, a game that probably is worth watching because of the quality of the opposition and to guage our readiness for next Sunday’s Premier League opener against Liverpool.

What will be interesting is who plays up front. From what the manager has been saying, it seems unlikely that the striker we need will be arriving before then so he’s going to have to choose between Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott. Asked about who might play there against the Mugsmashers, he said:

I like Walcott in that position and I like Alexis in that position as well. I might start Alexis on Sunday because Walcott played a large part in Friday’s game. I don’t know how ready Alexis is physically for that intensity.

Again reiterating the desire to bring in new players, his comments about things ‘move’ in final week of the transfer window could be construed as something of a hint in that regard:

We still look up front, we still look at the back. It’s a long period until the end of the transfer market, sometimes things move in the last week. You never know when you have an opportunity, so you have to always be on alert, day and night, and when it comes you have to catch it.

So, something might happen next week but it sounds a bit like we’re waiting for thing to fall into place. As if whatever we have planned – and I’m making the assumption that we do actually have a plan ? – requires other things to happen that are out of our hands. If so, it’s a risky strategy when you look at our opening two fixtures. Dropping points because we lack the things we’ve very publicly admitted we need will not go down well.

Also, the Theo Walcott confusion continues. After he said last week that he no longer wanted to be a striker and would prefer a return to the right, the manager has shot that idea down in quite brutal fashion, saying:

He is not a great defender. On the flank, today there is much defensive work asked from the players that you lose a lot of his qualities when you put him there.

From a manager who rarely, if ever, talks about a player’s deficiencies, that’s fairly damning. ‘Not a great defender’, indeed. I don’t disagree with him, and it’s clear that Walcott’s lack of defensive nous is why he stopped picking him on the right. But that iron fist was wrapped in a velvet glove, and Wenger has backed him as a striker:

I believe that he has all the ingredients to be a great striker, because of the quality of his runs. He is an intelligent player, a good finisher. I believe that to use his runs in the final third for us could be very efficient.

He pointed to the Man United game at Old Trafford as one which sapped Walcott’s confidence in that position:

On the day he didn’t perform well, but it was not only Theo Walcott who didn’t have a great game, it was everybody. From then on, people became sceptical. You know a year ago he was more confident to play through the middle and I’m convinced that changed his mind, the fact that he was not selected for the Euros was a big blow for him.

I go back to what I said the other day, because often what a manager does is far more informative than what he says. Does Arsene Wenger pick Theo Walcott as a striker when Olivier Giroud is fit? No. Did he pick Theo Walcott as a striker when Giroud scored just twice in 22 games? No. Is Arsene Wenger looking for another striker? Yes … well at least he says so.

In the very short-term he needs Walcott as an option and needs him not to be a jittery, unconfident wreck, hence the positives about him as a striker. Ultimately though, what he does suggests he has minimal faith in him in that position, and if a new man arrives – next week or before the end of the window – Walcott is pushed even further down the pecking order.

The whole thing is a bit of a mess to be honest, and you’d be very hard pressed to make the case that it’s good planning if he’s the one who gets the nod against Liverpool next week. He might play well, and obviously I hope he does if he has to start, but having to cajole a performance out of a guy who has spent 10 years at the club and failed to make a position his own really says something about both manager and player.

Right, that’s that. The game later kicks off at 18.00 and as well as streaming via the official site, I believe it’s on ITV, so you can pull up your post-roast Sunday chair and enjoy that. We’ll have some post-match bits and pieces over on Arseblog News, and there’s more from me – including an Arsecast Extra – tomorrow.

Have a good one.

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