Walcott: pain ruined my cup final day

Dislocated shoulder had young star in agony as he played in 2007 at Cardiff
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The Independent Football

Beware the injured golfer, goes the old saying, but Chelsea should beware Theo Walcott too, injured or fit, in their FA Cup semi-final today. After all, it was against the west London club that the Arsenal winger had his first taste of a major cup occasion, the 2007 Carling Cup final, and one where he showed why Arsène Wenger had paid £9.1m for him the year before.

The 20-year-old is currently in a rude state of health, as he demonstrated on Wednesday night in the Champions League against Villarreal by destroying the Spanish side's left-back Joan Capdevila and scoring the first goal of the night with a brilliant chip. But Walcott, who signed from Southampton in January 2006, was, despite appearances, not as fit when asked by Wenger to start that final in Cardiff two years ago.

With just 12 minutes gone at the Millennium Stadium, Walcott – who was part of the 2006 England World Cup squad but did not play a minute – beat Petr Cech with ease to give the Gunners the lead. They did not manage to hold on, losing 2-1, but Walcott had made his mark.

As he admitted yesterday, however, the biggest problem that day was not the occasion, but his shoulder. He said: "That was my first [full] year and I had a shoulder injury going into the game. I had a massive strapping on it and it still popped out a few times that day. I hid it quite well, because it's not nice.

"The pain is so bad. My right [shoulder] was worse because it would pop out and pop back in like from the Mel Gibson days in Lethal Weapon. I've now probably got the strongest shoulders in the Premier League. Hopefully, they're nice and sturdy. It's nice to get the first whack, you know they're strong. Someone said the other day that I got pushed off the ball too easily when I joined Arsenal, but I was 16 then, still growing, but now I feel stronger than ever."

He was operated on after that final and since recovering has seen his influence and appearances increase each year. After a slow start to the current campaign, he picked up his game spectacularly in September when he dismantled Croatia's defence in Zagreb in England's World Cup qualifier, scoring a hat-trick in the 4-1 win.

The joy was short-lived as two months later, on England duty ahead of the friendly with Germany, he injured his shoulder again, putting him out of action until March. However, since then he has scored a crucial penalty, in the shoot-out victory against Roma in the last-16 of the Champions League, to go with his goal against Villarreal that helped set up a European semi-final with Manchester United.

Walcott will volunteer again to take a penalty, if required, this afternoon. "If it comes to it, then I would take one," he said. "I'm not the best penalty taker but I'd do it for the team and the fans." These days he has broad, as well as strong, shoulders, clearly.

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