Monday 19 February 2018

Wenger: Walcott deserves 'big chance'

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Alex Morton/Getty Images
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Alex Morton/Getty Images

Jim White

In their second Champions League fixture of the season, Arsenal entertain a side with a distinguished collection of English scalps. Basel have beaten Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea in Champions League encounters, and Arsene Wenger is more than aware of his Swiss visitors' pedigree.

"They have experience," the Arsenal boss said. "We face a team who are well organised, not under pressure as they always dominate their league. They know they will come back in the Champions League again next season. And they produce players."

Not least Granit Xhaka, Wenger's pricey summer recruit from Borussia Monchengladbach, who began his career with the perennial Swiss champions, a club where his brother Taulant still plays. Yet, despite the absence of the suspended Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin, Wenger believes that his side are in a better position than for some time to take on such canny opponents. "I think the team is on the way up," he insisted.

Read more: Power of stadium can help us cause a stir - Rodgers

One of the key ingredients of Arsenal's successful start to the season has been the return to form of Theo Walcott. Sitting alongside his manager, the player reckoned surplus to requirements by England at the Euros has been in dynamic form this season. Walcott insisted that the international snub has not worked as a motivational tool.

"It's all about here, I'm not even thinking about England," he said. "Me and the manager sat down during the summer and I just looked at myself. I think there has been a change in my whole attitude."

Wenger agreed that the principal motivation for improvement had been the player's own self-analysis.

Read more: Guardiola urges City to focus on big picture

"Theo's career is made of ups and downs," he said. "Why did I always stick with him? Because I think he is intelligent and with intelligent people there is always a chance. Because he had two shocks last year - what happened to him at Man United (when, after an anonymous performance he was roundly criticised by Alan Shearer) and what happened at the Euros and I think he thought about the problem, I had a chat with him at the start of the season and he was clear. He has assessed it all and came to a conclusion that looked to me very positive. And that's why I thought he deserves a big chance."

And Wenger would like to see Walcott back in the England squad.

"I never stop the ambition of a player to be in a national team because I think that is the ambition of every player. I would be pleased for him if he gets it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Arsenal v Basel, Live, BT Sport, 7.45

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