No turning back now for Walcott

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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger feels it would be "difficult mentally" for the Arsenal winger Theo Walcott to drop back into the England Under-21s. Following a string of impressive displays with the Gunners, the 19-year-old netted a stunning hat-trick for Fabio Capello's senior team in their World Cup qualifier in Croatia last month and looks set to be a key man again in the forthcoming clashes with Kazakhstan and Belarus.

However, under-21s coach Pearce has not yet given up hope of persuading the youngster to link up once more with his squad for the European Championship finals in Sweden next summer should they come through a two-legged match against Wales.

While Wenger would not stand in Walcott's way were he keen to take part, the Arsenal manager feels it would be an unlikely move. "I would not be against it, but it is very difficult mentally for a player once they have been into the top team to go back into the under-21s again," Wenger said.

"I have seen that many times with very young players and it has never worked very well. I had that in France with Thierry Henry and [Nicolas] Anelka and they were already in the top team and then went below. It is never conclusive."

Wenger, though, maintains he would not stand in Walcott's way should he want to take part in the finals. "I think he would be happy to do it, and I can understand that England wants to use him," said the Arsenal manager. "He is 19 and if he can contribute to the under-21 team, why not?"

Arsenal head to Sunderland on Saturday looking to get their Premier League campaign back on track following a shock home defeat by Hull City last weekend. Wenger admitted he had felt physically sick afterwards. An impressive 4-0 victory over Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday night will have improved his mood.

The Arsenal manager is determined to make sure the same mistakes are not repeated at the Stadium of Light. "We responded well. First of all it was important to show that Saturday was an accident," he said. "We gave the first half of the response on Tuesday night and we want to give the other half on Saturday at Sunderland.

"When you go to Sunderland, you want your team to be completely at its best, and focused. I believe what happened last week will help us to do that. The pain was big, the response was good. I believe we have a healthy attitude in the squad and that has been shown against Porto. We want to show we have learned from the defeat against Hull."

Having lost only three times during the whole of last season, Wenger knows there can be little margin for error again given their reverse at Fulham in their opening away game of the domestic campaign. "I do not think looking at the league table the Hull result has too much of an impact – but it is damaging because you do not want to lose at home against anybody," he said.

The Sunderland defender Danny Collins is confident his side have nothing to fear from Arsenal. Collins is convinced Roy Keane's men will run the Gunners close on Wearside after doing just that at the Emirates Stadium last season. He said: "We went there last year and we were 2-0 down after 10 minutes, and you are perhaps thinking, 'We are going to get hammered here.'

"But we dug in, we rolled our sleeves up and we were unlucky not to come away with a point. We got back to 2-2 and Liam Miller was unlucky not to go through and get us a winner just before they scored.

"We certainly know we are capable on our day of causing an upset against them, and I am sure the boys will be confident going into that one."

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