Theo Walcott has had to get used to the glare of the spotlight but thatdoes not mean the intense scrutiny his performances are subjected togets any easier to live with.
Fabio Capello was at the Emirates to take in Walcott's display in Arsenal's win over Sunderland. Inevitably, after each misplaced pass or poor cross, the camera panned from Walcott to the England manager to gauge his reaction.
Walcott: finding his feet
Walcott is under the kind of pressure that very few young players ever have to cope with. The expectation for him to be a match-winner for club and country is huge.
Currently, he looks ill at ease with such pressure. Take his first two lightning runs down the right on Saturday. On both occasions he looked up, saw nobody was in the box and elected to shoot from a tight angle.
Walcott's decision-making prompted two mouthfuls from Samir Nasri, even though the France midfielder had failed to take up a decent position in the box. Instead of firing a volley back at his team-mate, Walcott chose simply to turn and trot back towards his own goal. Walcott is maybe too polite for his own good.
Consequently, Arsene Wenger is only too happy to see Walcott start to fight his corner more. 'We have all played football and our partners have had a go at us. It is part of the game as well, you have to accept that,' said Wenger.
'He is getting there. He gets harsh treatment, we see signs in training, get a response, even when opponents kick him he responds very well. It's part of the learning process. I've said many times that players get there when they are 22 or 23 and yet Theo is still 20.'
Spot on Cesc Fabregas ensures the victory
Having complained about it earlier in the campaign, all the Englandtalk surrounding Walcott clearly still sticks in Wenger's craw.
Hesaid: 'The problem is that everyone has the England national team inyour mind and because you want to bring the World Cup back to Londonyou want everybody to be on top today.
'They will be in thelong run but when players have been out for a while it takes a while toget back to your best with confidence, sharpness and the zip. That willcome back with Theo.'
Walcott, having not played a full 90minutes in the league for Arsenal this season, is desperate for astrong finish to a campaign that has been punctuated by injury.
Tap in: Nicklas Bendtner knocks in from close range
Hewill discover today where he figures in England plans when StuartPearce names his Under 21 squad to play Greece at Doncaster a week nextWednesday, the same day the seniors play Egypt at Wembley.
'I'mstarting to get there now,' said Walcott. 'It's just getting that finalball sorted. I haven't had that many appearances this year, it's beenon and off.
'I've been so frustrated, but hopefully with a run of games and consistently playing in the starting line-up it will come.'
MATCH FACTSArsenal (4-3-3): Almunia 7; Eboue 8 (Denilson89min), Silvestre 7, Vermaelen 7, Clichy 6; Fabregas 7, Song 7, Ramsey7; Walcott 6 (Sagna 78), Bendtner 7, Nasri 6 (Rosicky 72, 6). Booked:Fabregas.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Gordon 7; Hutton 6,Mensah 5, Turner 6, McCartney 6 (Bardsley 85); Campbell 5, Cana 6,Ferdinand 5, Richardson 5 (Zenden 76), Bent 6; Jones 5 (Benjani 78).Booked: Cana, Turner, Richardson, Mensah, Ferdinand.
Man of the match:Emmanuel Eboue.
Referee: Steve Bennett.
Theradar certainly needs more than a little fine-tuning but his explosivepace is a formidable weapon. And if Walcott can iron out the mistakesand stay fit to the end of the season then the timing of his returncould prove to be impeccable for club and country.
Arsenalhad to wait until the second minute of injury time to make the win safewith a Cesc Fabregas penalty after Nicklas Bendtner had given his sidethe lead with a close-range tap-in.
But Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones, heavily linked with a move to Liverpool, was guilty of a shocking miss.
DarrenBent must also rediscover his early-season form if Sunderland are notto be facing a relegation battle all the way to the end of the season,even though Steve Bruce felt his striker should have been awarded apenalty following a challenge by Mikael Silvestre.
Man of the Match: Eboue set up Arsenal's opening goal
Bentstayed on his feet and got a shot away which was well saved by ManuelAlmunia, prompting Bruce to complain: 'Benty, because of his honesty,has gone through and it looks to me as if Silvestre is all over him.Whether it was inside or outside the box, it was a big call.'
ToBruce's amazement, keeping Sunderland up has also become a very bigcall. 'We had the best start in 35 years for the club and if somebodyhad told me we wouldn't win in 13 games I would have thought that wouldbe practically impossible,' he said.
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