World Cup qualifiers: Arsenal forward Theo Walcott says he now feels he belongs in England set-up

Forward admits need for more England goals as Hodgson's striking options are reduced

Theo Walcott might have raised a smile or two with his revelation that Wayne Rooney's damaged forehead looks "like something out of a horror film" but as he looked ahead to England's World Cup Group H double-header against Moldova and Ukraine, the Arsenal forward admitted that the loss of England's leading attacking player was no laughing matter.

The absence of Rooney, England's five-goal top scorer in qualifying, is the biggest headache facing manager Roy Hodgson as he prepares for Friday's Wembley meeting with Moldova and the daunting trip to Ukraine next Tuesday, and one that could be compounded if Daniel Sturridge – absent from training today along with Jermain Defoe, Jack Wilshere and Steven Caulker – misses out too.

Walcott reflected on Rooney's importance to England as he revealed he had seen a photo of the gash in the Manchester United player's forehead which required ten stitches after an accidental training ground collision with Phil Jones.

"It's very well documented how many goals Wayne has got and his contribution, he's a massive threat," said Walcott. "Everyone will have to step up because we know how important these games are and how big they are.

"I have seen a picture and it is a very, very big gash," he added of the injury. "It's like something out of a horror film. It is not going to help his looks I wouldn't think. It is sad to see but it is an opportunity for someone to come in and take their chance."

While Walcott cited Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert as "great options" for Hodgson, perhaps he might be the man to step up himself. At 24, he admits he finally feels at home in the England set-up. It is seven years since his controversial call-up, aged 17, to England's 2006 World Cup squad and five since his hat-trick in a World Cup qualifier in Croatia. Yet not until last month's friendly win over Scotland had he scored a home goal for his country.

"I feel like one of the oldest guys in the team at the moment actually," he said. "I feel like I should be here. A few years ago I was always a bit timid maybe, but it feel like this is where I should be."

A prolific campaign for Arsenal last season has boosted that belief. "Goals have been a big thing in my game, getting 21 last year," he said. "Now the next step is getting goals for England as well.

"I think because of the way I have been playing for Arsenal, [Hodgson] is seeing that with England and I am starting to show that belief in myself as well. The main thing for me now is staying fit."

Walcott spoke like a fan when he suggested a World Cup without England "doesn't feel right", but he knows there is work to do for a team currently second in Group H, two points behind leaders Montenegro. "It will be a dream come true to go out there but we are not there yet. We have four tough fixtures – people say it's Moldova but we know how professional we need to be, but the World Cup is the top."

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