By Chris Harris
Theo Walcott will not let the critics get him down as he strives to produce his best form for club and country.
The 20-year-old was written off in midweek after an unconvincing display for England against Egypt but he bounced back in style on Saturday with a man-of-the-match display in Arsenal's 3-1 win over Burnley. Walcott tormented the visitors throughout, scoring a stylish second-half goal and setting up a string of chances for his team-mates.
It was the perfect response to criticism which was at its most fevered when radio summariser and former England international Chris Waddle accused Walcott of lacking "a football brain". As far as Walcott is concerned, he looks elsewhere for advice on his career.
“Chris Waddle? I heard what has been going on and what he said, but I don’t listen to people on the outside of football," he said.
"I listen to people around me: the boss [Arsène Wenger], Mr [Fabio] Capello, my family and the people around me. I’ve got fantastic people who look after me. I am very level-headed and keep my feet on the ground. I will forget about this performance now and try to kick on and improve on Tuesday [against Porto].
“The best thing is I do know what’s going on on the outside but I don’t listen to it, I only listen to people around me. It’s doesn’t bother me whatsoever. Maybe if I keep performing like that it will shut people up."
Walcott is the first to admit he's not been at his best this season but, then again, he's hardly played this season. Back, knee, hamstring and, most recently, rib injuries have restricted him to just eight starts and, unlike most of the Arsenal squad, Walcott missed last summer's training camp in Austria, where the building blocks for the season are put in place.
When a rusty Walcott struggled on his comeback at Stoke in the FA Cup in January, Arsène Wenger warned that he would need "six weeks" to find his rhythm. The manager has been proved right - the Burnley game came right on the deadline - and Walcott is relieved to put a frustrating period behind him.
“You want to perform as well as you can in every game but I’ve had so many injuries this season, people don’t realise how hard it is to come back from setback after setback after setback," he said.
"I can get into double figures with the number of injuries I’ve had this season. You can’t be at your best straight away and if you think you can, then you put more pressure on yourself. That’s what I had been doing this season.
“But I’ve got all my 'pre-season' games out of the way now and I can kick on for Tuesday. I’m concentrating on Tuesday and I’m not looking too far ahead.
“My development has gone very well. I’m only 20 still and I’ve been in the limelight all the time. A lot of Arsenal’s games are on TV. As a young player, you normally do your development in the background and build yourself up. But the World Cup 2006 call-up shot the pressure on me straight away. I dealt with that quite well, but hopefully I can just get all these injuries out the way and concentrate on a very important run-in."Copyright 2014 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 8 Mar 2010