World Cup snub got me fit and firing says Walcott
THEO Walcott has put his good form and fitness this season down to being left out of the England World Cup squad last summer and learning to put any injuries to the back of his mind.
A brace against Newcastle United on Wednesday night to take Arsenal into the Carling Cup quarter-finals took Walcott (21) to one short of his season's best tally of seven goals, set three years ago.
Arsene Wenger, his manager, will feel vindicated by arguments that his player's poor injury record last season was caused by the excessive physical burden of Walcott playing for the England senior team and U21s.
The forward suffered injuries to his back, knee, hamstring and ribs last season, during which he started only 12 league games and Fabio Capello, the England manager, claimed that he did not take Walcott to South Africa because of a longstanding shoulder problem.
"A lot of people have said that not going to the World Cup was mentally and physically good for me," Walcott said. "I went back and just rested. It was my first proper pre-season since I was at Arsenal."
Despite suffering another injury this season on England duty -- he damaged ankle ligaments against Switzerland in September -- Walcott has remained more upbeat than on previous occasions.
"The injury was frustrating but it was a total freak accident," Walcott said. "It ended up being six weeks. I've been more down in the dumps over past injuries, but this time I was happier.
"Against Newcastle I showed what I can do. It was a massive fitness boost to play the whole game."
Walcott is hoping to retain his starting place at home in the Premier League against West Ham United tomorrow. "You want the manager to have a headache over who to pick," Walcott said. "Players like the competition."
There will be extra competition soon with Aaron Ramsey and Robin van Persie set to return to training next week, but Kieran Gibbs, the defender, will be out for a few weeks with a knee ligament injury.
"It should be a similar squad to the one that played at Man City," Wenger said. "Van Persie is not far away now but Ramsey will need longer to be match fit."
Andrey Arshavin, Walcott's team-mate, has warned Arsenal not to take West Ham, who are bottom of the league, lightly and to learn from the 3-2 home defeat by West Bromwich Albion last month.
"Any rival can bring some unpleasant surprises," he said.