MANAGER Arsene Wenger is in no doubt Theo Walcott has what it takes to lead the Arsenal attack, but he might have to do without the England forward in the next few weeks following a controversial end to the 2-0 FA Cup third-round win over Tottenham.
Walcott suffered a knee injury during the closing stages of Saturday’s north-London derby at the Emirates Stadium, which was settled by fine finishes by Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky in each half as Spurs suffered their first defeat under new boss Tim Sherwood.
The England forward had caused problems for central defensive duo Michael Dawson and Vlad Chiriches with his pace all afternoon and on another day might have plundered a hat-trick.
Walcott’s “2-0” hand gesture towards the 5,000 visiting supporters amassed in the Clock End then made further headlines as objects, including coins and plastic bottles, were thrown at the stretcher and hit medical staff as they carried it around towards the tunnel on the half-way line.
Walcott is expected to avoid an FA sanction over the incident but could be sidelined anyway for a spell should his knee problem prove severe.
Wenger, though, is confident the 24-year-old can give Arsenal a different option down the middle to lead frontman Olivier Giroud, who missed out against Spurs because of illness.
“I liked what Theo did because he played before in that role, but against Spurs he added purpose and commitment, more decisiveness to his game and a more fighting attitude,” said Wenger, who revealed Denmark forward Nicklas Bendtner would be sidelined for up to a month with an ankle injury suffered when scoring in the 2-0 win over Cardiff.
“With that, he looks every time like he improves in that position and with the quality of players behind him, he can be very dangerous in that position.”
Wenger accepts it is not the ideal time to be shopping for the required calibre of player to boost the Arsenal squad as they look to sustain their Barclays Premier League title challenge through to May, but if his attacking options are further depleted then there could be little option but to strengthen this month.
The Gunners boss had utilised his full squad for the FA Cup tie, with teenager Serge Gnabry one of several fringe players drafted in, while captain Thomas Vermaelen started in central defence only to go off at half-time with a knee problem and fit-again club-record signing Mesut Ozil was introduced as a late substitute to underline Arsenal’s new-found strength in depth.
The 18-year-old Gnabry produced a lively display from midfield and his determined run on 31 minutes led to the ball being pushed out to Cazorla to fire an angled drive back past Hugo Lloris. “He has had some good games but maybe we were not at home,” said Wenger of the Arsenal Academy product.
“Gnabry played well at Swansea, at Crystal palace, and overall against Spurs he has shown that he is quality. He is a very young boy but he has the quality, is bright and he has a good football brain.”
Kyle Walker, meanwhile, told his Tottenham team-mates they must move on quickly from their cup humbling.
Tim Sherwood tasted defeat for the first time since he was given the White Hart Lane job and apart from an early opportunity for Christian Eriksen, Tottenham created very little going forward.
Arsenal never looked like failing to progress to the fourth round – and having been on the end of two 5-2 thrashings at the Emirates Stadium, Walker knows the defeat could have been much more painful.
The Spurs full-back, though, is hopeful that the team can bounce back from the defeat by returning to winning ways against Crystal Palace in the Barclays Premier League next week – and maintain the progress made by Sherwood since succeeding André Villas-Boas as manager.
“Of course it’s disappointing and frustrating to lose to the local rivals,” Walker said. “But we showed a lot of character. We kept going. We have come here previously and (the score) has been higher than 2-0.
“We have got to pick ourselves up. We have a big game on Saturday, another London derby and we need to get the three points because we have been fantastic [in the league].”