'Fearless' Walcott needs protection, says Cole

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The Independent Online

Joe Cole has warned England and Arsenal fans not to burden Theo Walcott with unrealistic expectations after his impressive performances for club and country recently.

The teenager gave a glimpse of his prodigious talent with a hat-trick against Croatia to help England to victory in the second game of their World Cup qualifying campaign. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was then expected to rest Walcott for their Premier League fixture with Blackburn at the weekend but he started with the youngster who went on to play an influential role in the 4-0 win at Ewood Park.

Chelsea midfielder Cole is wary of expecting too much from Walcott so early in his career. "We have to remember that he's still only 19 and there shouldn't be too much pressure on him," Cole said. "In Wenger and [Fabio] Capello, he's working with two of the most experienced and respected managers in the world, who'll both help mature him as a player.

"Though, to be fair, scoring three goals against Croatia in the Maksimir Stadium – probably the hardest stadium in Europe to go to – shows he's pretty fearless already. He's got great touch and fantastic ball control, so he's definitely got the ability.

"What's so special about Theo is that by getting down the wing and picking out players, he's got the potential to set up as many as he'll score."

Walcott joined Arsenal from Southampton as a 16-year-old in a deal which will eventually be worth up to £12m to the south coast club. And Cole also admitted it was Walcott's pace which made him such a difficult proposition for defenders. "We've all seen for a while how fast he is, and it's not just his short bursts of pace – he can do it for the whole length of the pitch," Cole said. "Pace is something that strikes fear into any player, even the top ones at international level.

"It's difficult to defend against and the defender will always be scared of making a foul because you can't get near him. Once he gets into the box, he's a defender's nightmare.

"He's only 19 and those three goals will have given him bags of confidence, so he'll be even more likely to take shots in the future. If he gets a run in the Arsenal side, I can see him scoring quite a few goals this season – his shooting accuracy is among the best I've ever seen."

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