Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal's Theo Walcott 'switches off' criticism from Alan Hansen

Theo Walcott is happy to hear constructive criticism - but admits he doesn't watch the bits of Match of the Day when when Alan Hansen and other pundits make their opinions heard.

Walcott's omission from Fabio Capello's World Cup squad was a surprise at the time. Now it looks like a mistake.

Four goals in the Premier League for Arsenal already this term - including a hat-trick against Blackpool - represents the best tally of Walcott's fledgling career and given the woeful nature of England's performances in South Africa, it is easy to see why many now think Capello made one of his many errors in leaving the 21-year-old.

Yet in Hansen and Waddle, Capello had two men in his corner.

Even in the wake of his impressive exploits against Blackpool, Hansen felt Walcott's concentration levels and the ability to choose the right decisions were badly lacking. For his part, Waddle has accused Walcott of lacking a football brain.

Ahead of Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier with Bulgaria at Wembley, Walcott was intent on steering a diplomatic path.

But in accepting opinion and free speech are a right in a democratic society, he made it clear they don't have to be heard.

"I sit on my own watching Match Of The Day, watching the goals go in, then I go off and make myself a cup of tea," said Walcott, clearly drawing a line between the goals themselves and the analysis that follows.

"I always watch Match of the Day. I love watching it.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the people I listen to are the boss (Arsene Wenger), Mr Capello, the players and my family.

"They are the most important people in my career."

Walcott would be rather foolish not to have taken the hint from Capello's decision to leave him out of the South Africa expedition, no matter how the move looks in retrospect.

In 2006, when he did go to Germany despite never having played a Premier League game, the former Southampton star admits it was a bad call by Sven Goran Eriksson.

This time around he paid the price for a succession of injuries which even Walcott admits hampered his form in the vital latter weeks of the season.

"Of course I was angry," he said.

"You want to play in the biggest competitions in the world. You want to play against the best. And you want to play for England. But I couldn't point fingers at anyone. I had to blame myself because the form wasn't there at the end of the season."

Given how the summer transpired, it could be argued Walcott was the one who benefited. After all, he is not tarnished the way others have been.

It is a nice theory. The reality is he wanted to be there. He still wishes he had been.

"I still wanted to be there," he said.

"I am an England fan like everyone else. I wanted the lads to do well. I had mates playing. It's one of the biggest competitions, anyway."

Nevertheless, Walcott came back to Arsenal for pre-season training vowing to look at his game in a new light.

He may have been a fresh-faced 19-year-old when he scored that famous hat-trick against Croatia in Zagreb, but that experience must be banked and built on, a reminder of how much Walcott has achieved but also a starting post for the development still to make.

"I have been in the limelight since I was 16. Playing for Arsenal and England is not a bad achievement so far," he said.

"In Zagreb I wasn't really involved that much. I just scored a hat-trick. A lot of people don't remember that. I am a lot more involved in every game now."

Part of that improvement is down to natural maturity. Rather more, one suspects, is down to the extra work Walcott is doing on the London Colney training ground he performed on for England this morning.

Bacary Sagna is his willing partner, honing the right-sided combination he hopes will be a potent threat for Arsenal this season, as well as heeding the advice Capello might have imparted to use his speed out wide rather than always checking inside which, as Croatia found out, can be devastating, but also became fairly predictable.

Capello needs some invention as Bulgaria tend to be obdurate opponents and can be relied upon to expose any English hesitancy, even without retired skipper Dimitar Berbatov.

It is obvious to everyone that the peace that exists between the Three Lions and their public is an uneasy one, which will be fractured at the first sign events are not quite going to plan.

"The most important thing is to get the three points on the board," said Walcott.

"The first game is always difficult but we have home support and playing at Wembley is a fantastic place.

"But no international is easy now. That was shown at the World Cup."

Belfast Telegraph


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