Why Arsenal must make room for Walcott

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is expected to be handed a huge fitness boost this weekend, with the return of Theo Walcott following six weeks out nursing a stomach problem which required surgery.

Walcott's return may finally present Wenger with a genuine selection dilemma for the first time this season. Does he change a side who have enjoyed a hugely successful start to the campaign to accommodate the speed demon, or stick with a fluid midfield five who have thrived in support of line striker Olivier Giroud.

The 24-year-old's absence on the right-hand side has seen Wenger vary things in midfield, allowing £42.4m man Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere to all experiment with an advanced wide role with room to move freely in the final third. Walcott presents a more rigid option, driving down the wing with pace and purpose or looking to cut inside and catch central defenders static in the penalty area.

One huge positive to including Walcott in the starting XI for Wenger is having a consistent goalscorer to take the pressure off Giroud. The England international underlined his ability to finish with a breakthrough campaign in terms of scoring last term netting 21 times in a season which included a brief stint as a central striker.

The Gunners managed to successfully cope without Robin van Persie with a collective effort in attack last season, with Walcott one of four players reaching double figures to ensure Champions League qualification.

Giroud may be a much more imposing physical presence as a focal point of Arsenal's attack, but in short bursts Walcott could provide a potent plan B for Wenger, particularly in games against Premier League title rivals. A defeat to Manchester United earlier this month highlighted just how desperately short of options from the bench the Gunners have been, with Nicklas Bendtner failing to make a difference late on.

While Walcott works his way back to full fitness Wenger may choose to use him as an impact substitute of considerable quality, but with the games coming thick and fast in two competitions it won't be long before the former Southampton academy star is thrust back into the limelight.

With Arsenal possessing an embarrassment of riches in midfield there is likely to be a loser in Wenger's reshuffle if Walcott returns as first choice on the right flank. Jack Wilshere looks the most likely candidate to see his minutes reduced, particularly with a persistent ankle complaint restricting his ability to find form so far this season.

Tomas Rosicky could also fall down the pecking order despite showing signs of a return to top form in recent matches, steering clear of injury trouble long enough to make a new deal at the Emirates a distinct possibility.

Ozil and Santi Cazorla look fairly certain to stay in the side with creative flair in abundance, while Aaron Ramsey has made himself simply undroppable thanks to a wonderful start to the campaign featuring 11 goals.

Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini provide a protective midfield shield but one anchor may have to miss out regularly, despite being particularly impressive as a duo in the 2-0 Champions League victory over Napoli at the Emirates Stadium.

Throw the impending return of Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the mix and Wenger now faces a stern test of his man-management skills to keep an inflated squad happy, a concept that looked totally incomprehensible to Gunners fans following the opening-day defeat to Aston Villa.

Expect Wenger to keep faith with Walcott when fit and occasionally lighten Giroud's workload with a forward berth in cup matches, with a midfield reshuffle on the cards to make Arsenal's quickest, more direct threat an integral part of their plans once again.

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