Wenger praises 'intelligence' of on-fire Walcott
ASK Arsene Wenger for the one quality, above all others, that he values in a player and the answer is always the same: "Intelligence." It is why his scouting goes well beyond any basic assessment of a player's technical abilities and why new signings are frequently shocked by just how much he already knows about their life beyond football.
It is also why Wenger was never concerned about the impact on Theo Walcott of his crushing World Cup exclusion. "I was always positive because I have looked at his disappointments and how well he analyses things," said Wenger. "When you are intelligent, you always improve. Because Theo thinks about the game -- 'What did I do right, what did I do wrong?' -- he always comes out with the right decision."
There were two options available to Walcott following his omission from the England squad. He could sulk, complain and let such a high-profile snub destroy his confidence.
The alternative was to accept Fabio Capello's decision with good grace, re-evaluate his career and come back better. Few expected him to take anything other than that second route, but, even so, it is a surprise just how much he seems to have improved over the past three months.
Walcott knows that his final delivery has often not done justice to his other attributes and he has been staying behind after training to work on those aspects of his game. He is also now taking a significant number of the team's free-kicks.
"I'm pretty much one of the last to leave at Arsenal now," said Walcott. "I will stay behind after training to practise crosses and set-pieces. I had a nice little break mentally through the summer, so I could think about things."
Wenger pointed out that most players only usually really start playing at first-team level when they are 21 and he remains adamant that Walcott will eventually move off the right flank and become a main central striker in the mould of Thierry Henry.
"He's quite a good finisher," Wenger said. "He was too nervous in front of goal, he rushed his movements. Now he is composed, and once a player understands to be composed and calm in front of goal, it opens their mind."
On Saturday, the trademark pace was complimented by well-timed runs into space, while Walcott's touch, finishing and crossing genuinely do look a level above last season.
His first Arsenal hat-trick included three well-taken finishes and, with goals also flowing from Abou Diaby, Marouane Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin, Arsenal appear more varied in attack this season.
Some perspective is necessary. In Blackpool, Arsenal were playing arguably the most limited team in the Premier League and, in Stephen Crainey, Walcott was up against one of the more pedestrian left-backs. It should also be remembered that there were plenty of emphatic Arsenal routs during their trophy-less campaign last season.
Blackpool manager Ian Holloway could not have been more dignified in defeat, nor more exacting of what he expects from himself over the next nine months. "I will have failed if I don't keep this lot up," he said.
So, will Saturday's experience stop him from encouraging such an expansive brand of football for a relegation contender?
"I believe in playing the Continental way," he said. "I might be in a bit of a Skoda garage rather than a Mercedes garage, but some old bangers don't half polish up great." (© Daily Telegraph, London)