By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger believes Theo Walcott is "very, very close" to following Thierry Henry’s route from winger to Arsenal striker. But he does not want the comparison stretched beyond that.
The Englishman is set to start at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday as Wenger’s men look to secure top spot in Group H.
So far, Walcott’s season has been characterised by two things – goals and a troublesome ankle problem. He returned with a brace from the right wing at Newcastle last week. For Wenger, it was no surprise but, just for the moment, he’ll still use him sparingly in the more attacking position.
“Theo can be a prolific goalscorer,” said the manager. “Once he is a yard in front of the defender no-one can catch him.
“He is very, very close to playing that striker role. But when you play with only one up front you like as well a guy who is good in the air as sometimes you kick it longer.
“Still look at the two goals he scored against Newcastle, they are from a typical striker goes who plays on a counter-attack.
“But most of the time we face teams with a different problem.
“We face teams that play very deep like West Ham so there is less space in behind. That is why at the moment I use him on the flanks.”
However Wenger has always seen Walcott’s long-term future in a central striking role. And that is where comparisons with Henry start. Not that the manager is prepared to stack up the Frenchman’s 226 goals in 370 appearances up against the 21-year-old nascent career just yet.
"It's difficult to compare the similarities,” said Wenger. “Is Thierry a replica of Theo? Is Theo a replica of Thierry? No. But they have in common tremendous pace, they are good finishers and both are intelligent.
"In England, you are very impatient. Thierry Henry came here at the age of 23 and Theo is 21. Give two more years to Theo and imagine what he will be.
"Don't forget that when Thierry Henry came here, he was a winger. When I played him as a central striker, he said to me 'but I can't score goals’.
“However I knew Thierry when he was 14 and at 15 I knew he could score goals when he played central. Then I left Monaco and they moved him to the flank but I knew in my head he could do it.
"It looks to me now that Theo has a calmness in front of goal. Before he rushed his decision but now he is different.”Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source