By Nick Teale

Arsène Wenger says Theo Walcott is ahead of the learning curve for a 21-year-old footballer.

The England international netted a hat-trick and put in a man-of-the-match performance as Arsenal beat Blackpool 6-0 last weekend. Yet Walcott still came in for criticism from some pundits in the media.

However, Wenger has defended his striker and says he's ahead of where most players would be at his tender age.

"He is at a level where others start to play in the Premier League," said the manager. "So he is still ahead of a planned career normally."

"I believe you can always win every battle - just show up with a good performance.

"I have seen so many great players in my life. They have all been questioned; Lampard, Gerrard - Rooney has been questioned at 20, Zidane had been questioned at 20. But it is down to the players to answer on the pitch with their performance.

"It was a one-day performance but I believe personally that Theo has the quality to repeat those kind of performances and that is what he has to show on the football pitch.

"Theo has a quality, apart from football qualities. He is mentally strong, he is fit on the ground, he is intelligent.

"He was unlucky many times with long-term injuries but it helped him to mature.

"At 17 if you go to a World Cup there is a lot of hype around you and you have to deal with that. I feel that he dealt with that very well.

"For the rest, if you are fit on the ground and fit on earth, turn up on Saturday and have a great game and that is the best way to get everybody on board."

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27 Aug 2010