Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger fears Theo Walcott is 'damaged' by criticism after playing out of position for England

An Italian newspaper described the player as an 'eternal Peter Pan' after he struggled in the No 10 position against Italy in Turin

Arsène Wenger fears Theo Walcott could be “damaged” by criticism after a poor performance in an unfamiliar No 10 role in England’s 1-1 draw with Italy on Tuesday.

While the Arsenal manager stressed the 26-year-old does not have a fragile mentality, he said the player was sensitive to the situation and is “not in his best mood”.

Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport described Walcott as an “eternal Peter Pan” for his apparent inability to fulfil his potential, and declared him the worst player on the pitch for the friendly in Turin.

Walcott is still coming back to fitness following a year out with a cruciate injury, and has made more appearances from the bench than starts for Arsenal since his return, which made Roy Hodgson’s decision to pick him surprising.

“He wants to do well,” Wenger said. “He’s sensitive and I’m a bit concerned about the damage that game can have on his mind. He is not fragile mentally, he is strong mentally, but he is disappointed because when you come back you always think you are ready.

“He needs patience. He is at the moment not in his best mood. He is not a fragile type. He has big confidence in himself and he has gone through some difficult periods in his life and he has always come out with strength.

 

“At the moment he is frustrated but that is normal,” Wenger added. “I don’t worry about Theo because he’s not completely there yet [at full fitness] and I told you a few times he has been out for a year with a very bad injury and he’s coming back. But being exposed like that, people have a harsh judgement on him, that is not deserved because he does well.”

Wenger stopped short of blaming Hodgson for selecting Walcott and felt the player’s deployment at No 10 was more down to Wayne Rooney’s movement than managerial instruction. The Arsenal manager admitted that he had never seen Walcott play No 10 before – not even in training.

“No, no,” Wenger said when asked if Walcott should have been left out of the squad. “I think he’s not far [from fitness]. Every time he comes on or when he’s started, he has scored.

“It was a complicated game for the strikers because Italy defended with three centre-backs, two players in front of the two centre-backs, and England played all in there so there was no room.

“Theo’s strength is the quality of his movements, he wants to get on the end of things. He’s not a guy who provides,” said Wenger.

“I don’t think it was the intention of Roy Hodgson to play him there. It’s maybe Rooney took the initiative during the game to play higher up and tell Theo to drop back. I haven’t seen Roy Hodgson in the game standing up to say ‘Walcott, you come and play in midfield and Rooney, you go up front’. That’s an initiative they took on the pitch.”

Wenger said he planned to speak to Walcott about the game against Italy. “I will see what state of mind he is in. We always have a word, if it is a positive experience or negative, you ask how did it go. We always speak about the last game.”

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