By Chris Harris

It's 18 months since Theo Walcott's world was turned upside down by his shock World Cup call-up. Now, according to Arsène Wenger, the 18-year-old is taking a more orthodox route to the top.

Walcott's journey from prodigious teenage talent to established first-teamer continues tonight when he lines up against Sheffield United in the Carling Cup at Bramall Lane. It's a far cry from last summer's trip to Germany and another sign that Walcott is now enjoying a 'balanced' development.

"What is normal for a footballer is to play well, get in the team and after four or five years at a good level he becomes an international," said Wenger.

"For Theo, before he starts to play he is in the World Cup and the process to find your balance back is much more difficult. I feel it is lucky that he has a good alignment and his feet are on the ground. That has helped him a lot.

"I never felt that he has struggled mentally [because of the World Cup call-up] but he must have been a bit puzzled that it is difficult to play football."

Wenger had yet to select Walcott for a top-flight game when he was famously named in Sven Goran Eriksson's squad for England's World Cup campaign. The Arsenal manager accepts that the call-up came too early but believes that it has helped, not hindered, Walcott's progress.

"It was a good learning process," said Wenger. "The younger you get a touch of a top-level job, the better it is. He learned under what kind of pressure it
is to play for your country.

"Was he complete footballistically? Certainly not completely. But it has speeded up his maturity - one day you win the lottery, the next day you lose everything and you learn it's not as easy as it looks. He's gone through that and now I feel he is ready to start."

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
Chris Harris 31 Oct 2007