Walcott backs young Gunners for cup glory

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The Independent Online

Theo Walcott is convinced that age need not be a barrier to Arsenal's chances of glory in the Carling Cup this term.

As usual, Arsène Wenger opted to pack his team with youth when Arsenal opened their quest to win the trophy for a third time at West Bromwich Albion last night. Yet, despite facing a side riding high in the Championship and packed with Premiership experience, the young Gunners were overwhelming victors, with the eventual two-goal margin of victory flattering only to the hosts.

Despite their tender years, Walcott, Jérémie Aliadière and the Brazilian teenager Denilson stood head and shoulders above their opponents and while sterner tests no doubt lie ahead, there is no reason why Arsenal cannot advance further than the semi-final stage they reached last season.

"If we believe in ourselves, we can go as far as we want," said Walcott. "To be part of this young squad is brilliant. All the youngsters have been training with the first team and it showed."

Walcott's individual performance showed exactly why Wenger was prepared to champion his cause for a spot in England's World Cup squad and also raised question marks over Sven Goran Eriksson's failure to use the 17-year-old, especially when things started to turn sour in the fateful quarter-final meeting with Portugal.

Blessed with pace similar to that of team-mate Thierry Henry, Walcott is also following the Frenchman by learning his trade in wider positions rather than the central striker he will eventually become.

His telepathic understanding with Aliadière created Arsenal's second goal at The Hawthorns and just about the only disappointment for the youngster was seeing Russell Hoult turn away a last-minute shot which seemed destined to bring Walcott his first Gunners goal.

"It is always good to play a full game but it was disappointing not to get the goal because I always expect to score when I go through like that. I guess it just wasn't meant to be," he said. "Overall though, I felt I did well. I got an assist and hopefully I will get another start in the next round."

Walcott is happy enough to continue his education on the wings, agreeing with Wenger that the experience of additional one-to-one combat can only be beneficial for his future prospects.

"It's a bit of a gift really," he said. "I have now played on the right and left as well as up front. It is always good to play in different positions and I really don't mind where I play."

Although Walcott can expect to be part of Wenger's squad for Saturday's encounter with Everton at the Emirates Stadium, most of the remaining members of last night's side will be put in cold storage ahead of another Carling Cup outing in a fortnight.

The problem for them all, as always, is trying to break into a senior side bristling with world-class talent and largely responsible for a current run of eight wins from nine games.

"I look to fast-track all these young players but I can only choose 11 and those we have in the first team already are not too bad," Wenger said.

"The main thing is we have a lot of good young players at the club. Seeing them develop is one of the greatest satisfactions a manager can get.

"I have a group of young boys who want to be successful in life and want to achieve something. It is fantastic to help them try to do that."

Amid all the good news for Wenger, Emmanuel Adebayor picked up a thigh injury which could rule him out for the next three weeks.

The striker lasted only 23 minutes at The Hawthorns and was replaced by Armand Traoré. Wenger said: "It doesn't look too good. He will miss Everton and maybe more. This type of injury usually takes 21 days."

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