Wenger urges patience with Walcott
Arsene Wenger has warned Arsenal and England fans that they will have to wait until the new year to see the best of Theo Walcott.
The 25-year-old is in line to make his first start since suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury on January 4 when the Gunners travel to Swansea on Sunday afternoon.
Walcott made his comeback from the bench in last weekend's win over Burnley and has been included in Roy Hodgson's England squad for the European Championship qualifier against Slovenia and the friendly in Scotland.
Although Wenger said he was pleased that Walcott was linking up with the national team in the hope of him getting more competitive minutes, the Arsenal boss believes the former Southampton youngster is still some way from being back to his peak.
"It takes two months," he said when asked how long it will take Walcott to get back to his best.
"Once you're back in full training, you count two months. Of course, people think you're back and you play but it's not like that. Ten months is a long time in top-level football.
"(You lose) the sharpness, the speed. At the top level, it's a fraction of a second that makes the decisions. And to find the confidence to get away from people.
"You're nearly there but you're not there and for a while you think, 'will that ever come back?' And suddenly yes, it's there again. But it takes time to get that fraction of pace.
"You need to go back into contact. He will go with England and get what he needs to. He will get competitive training every day and get back into games.
"At the moment we go from recovery to recovery. He works hard, but maybe he can play against Scotland and gain a lot from that."
But Wenger is not worrying about whether Walcott will suffer another injury setback whilst away with the England squad.
''Roy Hodgson is free to do what he wants. (Walcott) has been chosen by England and he needs competition,'' he added.
''He has been out for 10 months - I don't know if you realise how long that is. People think it's like mechanics. They're not machines, they are human beings and to get back into the rhythm of the top, top competition will take time."
Having nursed Jack Wilshere back from a number of potentially serious injuries, Wenger has the perfect example of a young player who needs to be managed back into action carefully.
"The top-level today is simple," he said.
"You have to be consistently in. If you are in and out, you are not there. You even see with top players like (Lionel) Messi, who have scored when they wanted - they have just an injury for six weeks, they are not the same player any more.
"It takes time to come back. Top, top level is that. Consistently there. If you are injured and out, in and out, you are not at the top. You cannot be there. It's impossible."
With Walcott on the mend, Wenger's injury concerns can now turn to defender Laurent Koscielny, who remains sidelined with an Achilles problem.
The France international has been missing since the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on October 5 and Wenger is unsure when he will be back in contention.
"No, I don't think so for (Manchester) United," he said when asked if Koscielny was close to a return.
"He has not started running outside so you cannot think he will be available in two weeks' time. He will not be available for three or four weeks.
"At the start of an Achilles problem and inflammation you can never predict. He is not there yet anyway. He cannot run."
The 3-0 win over Burnley has been the only clean sheet the Gunners have managed in Koscielny's absence and they shipped three goals as Anderlecht came from behind to take a Champions League draw away from the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night.
And Wenger conceded his defence would have been stronger had he been able to keep building on the promising partnership Koscielny was beginning to enjoy with Per Mertesacker.
"You miss him every time you concede a stupid goal," Wenger added.
"You think, 'Oh, if he was there', but we have conceded some with him as well. Look, ideally we want him here. Could we have stopped the goals without Koscielny? I say yes.
"So I think it would be a little bit escaping the real responsibility. When you are a defender and you make a mistake you have to stand up for it. Everyone makes them."