Wenger deal lets Walcott miss Paris final to join England

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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger said yesterday that he believed Theo Walcott was ready to start matches for England in next month's World Cup and could also be an "interesting weapon" to use from the substitutes' bench.

Even though the Arsenal manager has not used the 17-year-old since buying him for £12m from Southampton in January he said that he was " level-headed, will not panic, he has good mental strengths" and will take in his stride his dramatic inclusion in Sven Goran Eriksson's 23-man squad for Germany.

Wenger confirmed that he had struck a deal with the Swede for Walcott to be left out of Arsenal's squad for next Wednesday's Champions' League final. Instead, Walcott will travel with the rest of the England players to their training camp in Portugal. "Sven needs to get to know him better and he will be with them unless I have a problem with my strikers," Wenger said.

The Arsenal manager continued: "I wouldn't want England to rely on Theo Walcott to win it, but he can certainly make a difference. I think he will maybe start in a game or two."

Wenger admitted that Walcott was still in a state of "shock" himself after Monday's announcement. "It is good because at his age he doesn't really realise what is happening," he said. "He will certainly be on the bench and he will come on when England don't manage to score. He can play wide and central. He has good pace. Once he is in front of a defender, one thing you can be sure is that no one will catch him."

Wenger has pushed Walcott's case for inclusion but said he did not " feel guilty" that he may be exposing the player to too much pressure. "It is never too early for a striker - it is instinctive and creative," he said.

Defended his own decision not to play Walcott, Wenger said: "I was never in a situation where we could take a risk with him because we always needed the points," Wenger said. "We were eight points behind Tottenham and in a knock-out situation in the Champions' League. Even when I gave Thierry Henry a breather, everyone thought I was crazy. I had Bergkamp, Van Persie, Reyes and I went more for experience."

Wenger said that Walcott has all the qualities to succeed and there were "parallels" with Thierry Henry. "He is a great finisher. He has a short back-lift when he finishes," he said.

However, the manager stressed that the striker was "not ready" to be compared to Wayne Rooney. "Rooney has a natural determined attitude and makes you believe he will sort you out. He has that instinct of a striker. Walcott is more a guy who uses his pace and is not as involved as Rooney, but he will be lethal," Wenger said.

Eriksson has been linked with the vacancy at Benfica. The Lisbon club have just parted company with Ronald Koeman, who has succeeded Guus Hiddink as the coach of the Dutch club PSV Eindhoven.

* Thierry Henry last night became the first player to receive the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year Award three times. The Arsenal captain collected the accolade at a gala dinner held at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London. On receiving the award, Henry explained his appreciation of the English approach to football, saying: "I really hope you can have another 1966 happen to you. I see the passion you have here for your national team and how much you want them to win. You are a nation who loves sport and football and I hope you win the World Cup again because you deserve it."

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