Eriksson set to gamble on Walcott the wonderkid

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Sven Goran Eriksson is to consider springing one of the biggest selection surprises of his five-year regime today when he names Arsenal's the 17-year-old striker Theo Walcott among the reserves to his 23-man World Cup finals squad. The teenager signed for Arsenal in January for an initial fee of £5m but is still yet to make his debut for the club.

The Swede is not known for gambling when it comes to squad selection for major tournaments but it is understood that he has visited Arsenal's training ground twice in the last three weeks to watch Walcott train. He has been impressed by the teenager's astonishing pace and sees him as a replacement for Wayne Rooney or Michael Owen if either has not recovered by the deadline for making changes to the squad on 9 June.

Eriksson has also been assured by Arsène Wenger that the player is ready to make the enormous step up to international football despite not having played in the Premiership. Although Wenger has named Walcott, who turned 17 in March, on the bench in Champions' League matches, the player is yet to see action.

At the moment, Eriksson is understood to consider Walcott the 28th pick of the squad ­ the last of five reserves he intends to take within the original 23. It would be a bold move to take Walcott to the World Cup finals. Should he actually play, Walcott could break Rooney's record as the youngest England international set when he played against Australia in February 2003 aged 17 years and 111 days.

Walcott played 23 games for Southampton in the first half of the season and there were serious concerns that for a 16-year-old, as he was then, Walcott was playing too much senior football. Wenger signed him for £5m rising to a possible £12m in January and immediately sent him on holiday to recover from a tough five months in the Championship.

However, Wenger, who is close friends with Eriksson, has told the England manager that he has no doubts of Walcott's ability to cope given his performances in training. "I think he has something special," said Wenger of Walcott. "He could be a pleasant surprise, but of course, it is a big gamble. Theo is only 17 and it is a big pressure to have ­ but I would not stop Sven from picking him. When Sven asks me about a player, I always give him my opinion and I regard Walcott as a big prospect."

Despite the injuries Arsenal have suffered this season, Wenger has not needed to call upon his teenage striker and conceded Walcott "needs games". "At the moment we are playing so often it is difficult to integrate him but he has the quality to do well," added the Frenchman.

Walcott has phenomenal pace and can also play on either wing. He has played for Arsenal's reserves and has also won a place in the England Under-19s team. With Michael Owen not even fit enough to make the bench for Newcastle against Chelsea yesterday more than five months after breaking his metatarsal, Eriksson has serious problems in attack.

It now appears likely that the reserves Eriksson chooses ­ he could pick four or five ­ will stay with the squad right up until the 9 June deadline when they can be switched for injured players. The final squad is sent to Fifa a week from today. Ledley King, another of the metatarsal victims was still walking with the aid of crutches yesterday.

Aaron Lennon, Tottenham's 19-year-old winger, has impressed Eriksson but the England manager is likely to stick with Shaun Wright-Phillips. Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing appears to have a strong chance of being named among the reserves.

In midfield Eriksson also has what appears to be a straight choice between Jermaine Jenas and Owen Hargreaves, with the Tottenham man the favourite to get the place despite his recent shin problem. Hargreaves' versatility should be among the reserves as cover in the holding midfield position for Michael Carrick who did not train all last week with a calf problem.

The Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson ­ who finished the season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday ­ is another likely reserve as cover for Robert Green, the Norwich keeper who has an ankle problem. Phil Neville could also be among the back-up players. Ashley Cole came through 90 minutes at Highbury yesterday unscathed.

Probable England squad for World Cup finals

GOALKEEPERS

Paul Robinson (Tottenham) 19 caps 0 goals

David James (Manchester City) 33/0

Robert Green (Norwich City) 1/0

DEFENDERS

John Terry (Chelsea) 22/0

Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United) 45/0

Sol Campbell (Arsenal) 66/1

Ledley King (Tottenham) 16/1

Jamie Carragher (Liverpool) 23/0

Ashley Cole (Arsenal) 44/0

Gary Neville (Manchester United) 78/0

Wayne Bridge (Chelsea - finished season on loan at Fulham) 22/1

MIDFIELDERS

David Beckham (Real Madrid) 87/16

Frank Lampard (Chelsea) 38/10

Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) 40/6

Joe Cole (Chelsea) 30/5

Shaun Wright-Phillips (Chelsea) 8/1

Michael Carrick (Tottenham) 5/0

Jermaine Jenas (Tottenham) 14/0

STRIKERS

Michael Owen (Newcastle United) 75/35

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) 29/11

Peter Crouch (Liverpool) 5/1

Jermain Defoe (Tottenham) 16/1

Darren Bent (Charlton Athletic) 1/0

RESERVES

Scott Carson (Liverpool) 0/0

Stewart Downing (Middlebrough) 1/0

Owen Hargreaves (Bayern Munich) 28/0

Phil Neville (Everton) 52/0

Theo Walcott (Arsenal) 0/0

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