Walcott the finished article gains strength and stature

Blackburn Rovers 1 Arsenal 2
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The Independent Online

If Theo Walcott was adversely affected by his omission from England's World Cup squad in the summer, then that makes the manner in which he disguised it on Saturday all the more impressive.

Before Fabio Capello's decision, famously received by "this-has-to-be-a-wind-up" Walcott while on the golf course, nobody could have blamed the 21-year-old for thinking this Premier League lark was all too easy.

After his selection by Sven Goran Eriksson for the previous World Cup while just 17, Walcott's development as a player has always been ahead of schedule but he gave a performance on Saturday of true maturity, making Capello's decision ever more mystifying.

It is easy to forget that Walcott is still just 21, yet he was the best man on the pitch at Ewood Park as he scored Arsenal's opener in a 2-1 win which underlined that Arsène Wenger's team can beat the bullies when required to do so. And, although he may not wish to admit it now, Walcott may one day look on his summer off as the best thing that happened for his career.

"I didn't go to the World Cup and had a good think," he said. "I didn't point the finger at anyone – I wanted to give myself a mental and physical rest.

"It is now a new season and pre- season has gone really well. I'm enjoying it. Pre-season was great because I didn't pick up any injuries and I've now got three games under my belt already this season. I just want to play football at my best and, hopefully, that will get me in the squad. I am looking forward to the European qualification games coming up, if I am picked."

On this display he should have no worries. He opened the scoring in the 20th minute, after Robin van Persie and Andrei Arshavin had combined to create an opening, and he did the rest, thrashing the ball past Paul Robinson from an almost impossible angle.

Blackburn, to the undoubted mystification of Wenger, whose previous seven away games against Sam Allardyce's sides had failed to produce a win, then scored a goal that was just as beautiful looking, courtesy of the Dioufs – El Hadji and Mame.

El Hadji charged down the left wing with the sort of abandon that makes home fans love him, and weighted a perfect pass for his namesake to tap into an open net, a first Premier League goal for the Manchester United loanee.

But Arsenal then showed a level of assurance and the type of grace under fire against the physical types of Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen that has been sorely lacking in recent years.

In other words, they were happy to mix it – but in their own way, as Cesc Fabregas, Walcott and Van Persie all showed that brains can overcome brawn when given the chance to do so.

After the interval, Arsenal eventually scored the goal that had been threatening when Arshavin swept in a stray ball in the box following superb build-up play from Bacary Sagna. However, it was another right-footed player who stole the headlines.

"I'm certain he will get a chance with England so let's hope," Wenger said of Walcott. "He is well equipped and stronger and I think he is getting better in front of goal."

Blackburn's Nelsen agreed: "He is a fantastic talent. I hope for his sake and England's that he can put a run of 10 to 15 games together. That's been his downfall in recent years. He's lacked that bit of consistency to keep it going, but he has had a great start to this season and scored a lovely goal here. I thought he played really well and, hopefully for his sake, he can continue to play well."

Capello will undoubtedly echo those sentiments.

Match facts

Blackburn Rovers 4-5-1: Robinson; Salgado, Samba, Nelsen, Givet; M Diouf (Nzonzi 81), Grella (Dunn 56), Jones, Pedersen, E Diouf; Kalinic (Olsson 65). Substitutes not used Bunn (gk), Chimbonda, Emerton, Hoilett.

Booked Givet.

Arsenal 4-3-3: Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Fabregas (Rosicky 68), A Diaby; Walcott, Van Persie (Chamakh 35), Arshavin (Wilshere 83). Substitutes not used Fabianski (gk), Eboue, Gibbs, Vela.

Man of the match Walcott.

Referee C Foy (Merseyside)

Attendance 25,059

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