Arsene Wenger thinks Theo Walcott is starting to show signs that he can convert himself from a winger to a prolific striker in the same way that Thierry Henry did at Arsenal.
Wenger has acquiesced to Walcott's demands to play a more central role in the last two weeks and the move has paid off handsomely. The 23-year-old scored in the Gunners' 5-2 victory over Reading and then won the penalty that handed Arsenal their vital win over Wigan Athletic last weekend.
Wenger has been reluctant to deploy Walcott up front in the past, but he now appears content to give the England international an extended run there in the hope that he can turn himself in to a clinical finisher in the same way that club record scorer Henry did. And Wenger thinks the influence of Henry, who has been training at Arsenal's London Colney base in recent weeks, has helped the former Southampton man adapt to his new role.
"Thierry gives him advice, which is always important, and Theo is a very intelligent boy," said the Arsenal manager. "He understands very quickly when you tell him something and that's why I think he can do very well in this position.
"I like what I have seen of Theo through the middle. It's an interesting challenge. I think he can take it on. He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before."
Wenger reiterated his hope that Walcott will sign a new deal. The Frenchman has imposed a New Year's Day deadline on negotiations, although he has indicated he will not sell Walcott in January even if it means losing him for free in the summer.
Wenger denied that playing Walcott through the middle for the last two matches would help his chances of keeping the player, but he does remain confident of holding on to him.
He said: "No, I don't think (playing him as a striker will impact on negotiations). I want him to stay and I want him to extend his contract, and I have always been consistent on that. Yes, talks are ongoing, and yes, I remain optimistic."
Wenger adresses Ba rumours, potential Henry deal
With Gervinho off to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations next month, Wenger could bid for another striker when the window opens, but he denied being interested in Demba Ba, who can leave Newcastle for £7.5m.
"I like Demba Ba, yes," the former Monaco coach said ahead of Arsenal's match with the Magpies. "But if you ask me, 'Do we sign Demba Ba?', I say no."
A more realistic option for Wenger appears to be re-signing Henry for a second loan spell. Wenger said earlier this week that he would not sign the New York Red Bulls player again, but appears to have softened that stance.
"I've not lost interest in him," said Wenger, who signed Henry on a temporary deal last January. "I've not completely [ruled a loan move out]. But I haven't spoken about it with him at all.
"He's still coming today to practice with us. We are very close [personally], but at the moment I think he has had a second spell at the club that was very successful. You have to be cautious that it's not one time too many.
"He is still good enough to play in the Premier League, absolutely. He is in a better physical shape than he was last time he was here last year."
Wenger admitted today he will be a busy man when the transfer window opens, not just in his attempt to sign players, but also in his efforts at offloading the deadwood clogging up his squad. Andre Santos and Marouane Chamakh could be sold while Arsenal are ready to listen to any offers for Andrey Arshavin, who is said to have attracted interest from Reading.
"I have not had a call from Reading," Wenger stated. "But if he finds a solution that is satisfying for him and for us, we will consider it."