Walcott: 'I'm raring to go'

FOR all Theo Walcott s perceived shortcomings on the football pitch, you really had to sit back and admire the Arsenal winger s strength of character on Saturday. Ignominiously dropped by Fabio Capello for England s World Cup, 21-year-old Walcott had two

FOR all Theo Walcott's perceived shortcomings on the football pitch, you really had to sit back and admire the Arsenal winger's strength of character on Saturday.

Ignominiously dropped by Fabio Capello for England's World Cup, 21-year-old Walcott had two choices - to spend the rest of his summer sulking and skulking at his public snub, or knuckle down and let his football do the talking.

On Saturday, his answer was plain for all to see. Yes, it may 'only have been Blackpool', but this was the Theo Walcott performance Arsenal fans have longed for ever since Arsene Wenger introduced the fresh-faced teenager to north London four years ago.

Walcott simply tore the Tangerines to shreds. His first hat-trick since Croatia in 2007, and his first ever at club level, was the springboard for Arsenal's biggest ever win at the Emirates. It was a masterclass from the Gunners, and Walcott insists there is more to come.

"Yes, it was the first (hat-trick), it feels brilliant," said Walcott. "It was a good result against Liverpool so this, especially being the first game at home, is a big stepping stone for us and I think we need to push on.

"I've had a very good pre-season, not just me but the whole team. We were undefeated, won every single game. I had a nice little break mentally through the summer as well so I could think about things and I'm just pushing on now.

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"I want to play games every week now, it's a big season for me. I was very unlucky with injuries last season, but I'm looking after myself a bit more now.

"I'm pretty much one of the last to leave now, I'm always staying behind after training working on crosses, set pieces and stuff like that. It's down to me, I'm just looking after myself and I'm raring to go."

That should serve as an ominous warning to Arsenal's title rivals. Arsenal fans may still need some convincing to believe that this was anything more than a flash in the pan from Walcott but, after an all-action display for England against Hungary earlier this month and an impressive performance against Liverpool, the signs are promising.

Walcott's much publicised problem of a poor end product was nowhere to be seen against Ian Holloway's side. Gone was the hesitation and uncertainty in front of goal. The majority of his crosses found red shirts and his three goals were all clinical finishes.

'Bouncebackability' he certainly has and, though he might not admit it, this was an answer to his critics, and testament to the sheer strength of will which has seen him emerge from a summer of heartbreak to potentially become one of Arsenal's most potent attacking weapons this season.

All of which has come as no surprise to Wenger, who publicly backed his player at the start of the season, and was full of praise again on Saturday.

"He did everything right today because he was sharp to finish but also he gave some good final balls and that's what you want from him. His decisions were right and I'm pleased for him.

"I never had any doubt about his mental strength and the way he has his feet on the ground. He is intelligent and mentally strong, that's why he bounced back quickly. He's worked very hard, and that's the best response you can give."

All eyes will now be on Walcott to see if he can continue this form. If he can carve out regular chances for the likes of Marouane Chamakh, Robin van Persie and Nicholas Bendtner, goals will certainly not be a problem for Wenger's side.

Van Persie, still regaining full fitness after his World Cup exertions emerged in the second half, as did captain Cesc Fabregas to an extraordinary reception from the Emirates faithful.

There were so many positives for Wenger: from the return to form and fitness of Tomas Rosicky, who was at the heart of everything good in the Gunners' midfield, to another mature and assured display from Jack Wilshere alongside Abou Diaby in front of the defence.

Alex Song enjoyed one of the quietest afternoons of his career filling in at centre-back, although that in itself should serve as a reminder that Arsenal will face far harder challenges than this in the coming months of the campaign, and the match was little more than a gentle workout.

"Our game was good, sharp, we had good drive going forward and our combinations were right and the technical quality was absolutely outstanding," added Wenger. "We scored six goals, it's difficult to complain.

"There is always room for improvement, certainly defensively, but overall we kept a clean sheet."

With Samir Nasri scheduled to return next month, Arsenal have an increasing number of midfield options to choose from as they seek to mount a sustained title challenge.

The mainstay of that midfield will almost certainly be Walcott, whose task is now to prove he is a player reborn. His hat-trick against Croatia was met with hysteria - this one will be met with cautious optimism that he is finally about fulfill his undoubted potential.

"The most important thing is how we react to Blackburn away next weekend - they're the games we need to be winning," added Walcott.

"They're the games that let us down last season so that's where we'll show our character.