Wenger insists Walcott can regain edge
THEO Walcott is struggling for form and fitness before the game that could reinvigorate or all but end Arsenal's hopes of winning the Premier League title, but his manager is not concerned by the winger's below-par performances and believes they are natural given the injury problems that have blighted his season.
"I am not worried about Walcott," Arsene Wenger said in the build-up to Arsenal's visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Defeat would leave Arsenal nine points behind Chelsea, who are top, after last weekend's 3-1 defeat at home to Manchester United, in which Walcott was a second-half substitute.
"He needs some time to play and come back to full fitness," the Arsenal manager said. "If he gets injury-free now, he will have a good end-of-season. But at the moment he is not completely himself."
Fabio Capello has more pressing matters on his mind, but Walcott's status will be firmly on the England manager's radar in the coming weeks before the game against Egypt at Wembley on March 3.
Walcott last played for England on June 10 last year in the 6-0 win against Andorra. Aaron Lennon has since proved himself to be an attractive alternative on the right flank, but the Tottenham Hotspur winger has missed the past five weeks with a groin problem. Walcott's injury record this season arguably vindicates Wenger's belief that playing for both England and England U-21s last summer was an excessive physical burden.
The 20-year-old suffered an inflamed back during pre-season and did not make a first-team appearance until October. That month he damaged knee ligaments against Birmingham City and was sidelined for five weeks.
He suffered a hamstring strain in Arsenal's 3-0 home defeat by Chelsea in November, then missed four games in December and January with a rib injury. Walcott has made only five starts this season and completed 90 minutes once -- against Olympiacos in the Champions League in December.
Arsenal are waiting on the availability of Abou Diaby, who missed Sunday's demoralising defeat with a calf problem. If he is fit, Diaby could come into the midfield at the expense of Denilson, who was ineffective against United. "Diaby is not yet back in normal training," Wenger said. "He progresses very well but we will still have to wait. He is a maybe."
Arsenal are short of options up front. Robin van Persie is ruled out until April, Eduardo da Silva has not recovered from his hamstring injury and Carlos Vela has a knee problem, while Nicklas Bendtner has only just returned after missing nearly three months in the wake of knee surgery. (© The Times, London)