By Chris Harris
Theo Walcott needs six weeks to get back to his best, according to Arsène Wenger.
The England international has barely featured this season thanks to a succession of injuries to his back, knee and, most recently, hamstring.
Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Stoke was only Walcott’s fifth start of the campaign and, understandably, he showed signs of rust during that 3-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium.
The 20-year-old came in for criticism after the game but Wenger launched a staunch defence of his player at his pre-match press conference on Tuesday. He insists that Walcott must be given time to find his rhythm.
“There is no player in the world who can be out for two months, come back and be outstanding,” said Wenger. “He doesn't exist, unfortunately.
“It’s not like you switch an engine on and off in the car. It demands competition and the most important thing for Theo now is not to be injured for five or six weeks. Then you will see a different Walcott.”
Walcott will be one of many talented young Englishmen on show at Villa Park on Wednesday. Martin O’Neill has Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and James Milner at his disposal and the latter has made notable strides this season.
Milner looks a shoo-in for England’s World Cup squad this summer and Wenger expects Walcott to make a similar improvement in the years to come.
“Theo is 20. Milner is 24 - give him [Walcott] three years and then you will see,” said Wenger.
“There is a massive difference between 20 and 24 - that is where you see the evolution of a player.
“People forget how young Theo is. I believe he has improved a lot but this season he has been unlucky.
“He has played three games this year. You cannot be at the top of your game for a striker with three games in six months - that does not exist. He needs a bit of luck.”Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 26 Jan 2010