Focus on Walcott as key Chelsea clash looms

Posted by Sam Limbert

Ian Kington/AFP/Getty ImagesOnce the Theo Walcott deal is done, transfers must follow

Arsenal's busy and crucial January schedule will be cranked up a notch on Sunday when they face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. With all the rumours and speculation over whether Arsene Wenger will actually spend money in the transfer window, it's easy to forget that there's another massive match coming quickly up on the snowy horizon.

The main news has once again centred on Theo Walcott, after he finally signed up and brought the contract saga to a conclusion. In many ways, now that the Walcott situation is sorted, the rumours and speculation surrounding the club might only intensify. Wenger has maintained throughout the January transfer window that his main priorities were to get players fit and sort out Walcott's contract. Whether or not people agreed with that, at least it seems he'll have achieved those goals before the end of the window, giving him some time in which to make the important improvements to the squad.

One of the links that emerged from Wenger's press conference on Thursday was Napoli striker Edison Cavani. However, it's pretty clear that he'll cost over £30 million so the likelihood of Arsenal making a bid is low. But with days running out, I expect these sorts of rumours will only increase. As with any Arsenal transfer, I'll believe it when it's made official by the club.

I was sceptical at the start of the season as to whether it was really worth fighting to keep Walcott, and whilst there have still been some matches this campaign where he has disappeared, he has improved massively in the past two years. Plus, the board and the club couldn't afford to let another important player leave in terms of the image of the club. Walcott might not yet be in the same quality bracket as the likes of Fabregas and Van Persie, but the club needed to send out a message to the supporters and other potential new signings.

The challenge for Walcott is now to justify the wrangling over his contract. With the improvement in wages, it's not unreasonable for fans to expect him to be willing to stand up and make regular, significant contributions, especially in big games. He'll get his first opportunity to do so on Sunday at Stamford Bridge.

There was much talk about Walcott's desire to start as a central striker, and although he has featured in the role with relative success recently, I doubt he'll start in that position against Chelsea. Wenger commented after the Swansea replay when Olivier Giroud featured up front that the team looked more balanced.

Had it not been for some slightly erratic finishing, good goalkeeping and superb last ditch defending from Swansea, Arsenal could have scored three or four in midweek from adopting the higher tempo pressing game. Hopefully the team's fitness levels will still be good enough to not let the game slow down, making it more comfortable for Chelsea. Southampton were brave, attacked them on Wednesday, and got a good result from it. Arsenal must do the same.

Despite the striker conundrum, the most interesting selection Wenger has to make is in midfield. Jack Wilshere excelled in the advanced position on Wednesday, however, with Lukas Podolski rested, he could come back into the team on left, moving Santi Cazorla back inside. If Abou Diaby is deemed not fit enough to play in his third game in a week after returning from injury, the likelihood is that Wilshere will be pushed back into the deep-lying midfield role. Hopefully by pressing high up the pitch and winning possession early, Wilshere will still be able to get into shooting and creative positions.

Arsenal can build on the slightly more positive mood around the club this week with the Swansea win and the Walcott deal. A win would be vital in terms of keeping up with the top four, but also set the club up for making an impression on the transfer market now Wenger has achieved his January priorities.

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