By Chris Harris

Theo Walcott's new 'mean streak' has made him the most exciting young player in English football, according to Manuel Almunia.

The Arsenal winger was tipped for great things when he arrived in north London in January 2006 and his career has taken off this season with a string of fine performances at club level and that memorable hat-trick for England in Croatia.

Walcott is a popular figure off the pitch, affable and down to earth. However, Almunia believes that a more hardened attitude on the pitch has helped Walcott scale new heights in recent months.

"Theo was too nice maybe in the last two years but this season you can see that when he gets tackled he gets furious and that shows you he has changed," said Almunia.

"When he used to take a tackle he didn't reply with anything, he didn't say anything to the referee or the opposing player. He would get tackled and stay on the floor, and he would never say anything. Now I like him more on the field.

"I tried to help everybody who comes to me and Theo is very nice. Sometimes he likes to speak to more experienced players, older players like me. I just spoke with him once, I told him he had to be a bit more aggressive and not so nice on the pitch because if people can kill you they will do so."

Now Walcott has shed his 'Mr. Nice Guy' image on the pitch, Almunia believes he can be a huge asset to Arsenal and England for years to come.

"I can only say that Theo is beautiful playing football," said the goalkeeper. "To me he is like a machine, it's unbelievable. I enjoy it a lot when I see Theo playing in training, and also because he is a very nice guy.

"He is by far the most exciting young English player I have ever seen. His skills are incredible and I am sure that over 100 metres he would get a good time. With the ball also he is very good technically.

"He has a lot of discipline, he is a very complete player. Theo is growing up and I think it's going to be great for England."

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6 Oct 2008