By Declan Taylor

One “special” performance in the FA Youth Cup Final was enough to convince Arsène Wenger that Theo Walcott was an Arsenal player in the making.

The 19-year-old’s England hat-trick may be the talk of the town at the moment but his club manager recalled the match, over three years ago, where he first saw Walcott play.

The then 16-year-old Walcott had already crossed swords with his future employers en route to the Final when he bagged the only goal in Southampton’s 1-0 Fifth Round victory over the Gunners. The Saints were eventually denied by Ipswich in the Final but the buzz around Walcott was growing and Wenger admitted that the Gunners weren’t the only interested party.

“At the time, he had the choice. Spurs, Chelsea and Liverpool were all interested,” said the Frenchman.

“I watched him in one special game against Ipswich in the FA Youth Cup Final. We had sent scouts to watch him maybe 50 times but after that of course I have to be convinced as well.

“The first quality that stood out was the timing of his runs; when to go and when not to go. Sometimes you have players who are super quick but you don’t see it in their game because they don’t run at the right time, they don’t use their asset.”

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12 Sep 2008