Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Theo's Battle to Outshine Milner

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Theo's Battle to Outshine Milner

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley

IT speaks volumes about the fortunes of the relevant players at Aston Villa and Arsenal that of the English contingent on show in Birmingham tonight, Theo Walcott has the most to prove.

Since that devastating hat-trick for England against Croatia in September 2008, Walcott's career has been ravaged by injuries that have truncated his development and restricted him to just five starts this season.

In the intervening period, several players have enhanced their credentials to be among the travelling party in South Africa and many of those reside at Villa Park.

Central to Villa's improvement under Martin O'Neill is the English trio of Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and James Milner who have been supplemented this summer with a relatively experienced campaigner in Stewart Downing from Middlesbrough.

All can operate in wide positions or, in Agbonlahor's case, as a centre-forward, a transition Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has long since earmarked for Walcott.

Milner has been a revelation showing his versatility throughout the Villa side but most notably in central midfield and such flexibility makes his case to go to the World Cup a compelling one.

Walcott is yet to develop his game in similar fashion and the contrast with the guile and craft of Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky and Andrey Arshavin -- all of whom can play in the same position -- underlines the room for improvement. The 20-year-old struggled badly in the FA Cup fourth-round defeat at Stoke but Wenger believes it is only a matter of time before Walcott is tearing into defences again.

"There is no player who can be out for two months, come back and be outstanding," said Wenger. "It is not like you switch an engine on and off in the car. The most important thing for Theo now is not to be injured for five or six weeks and then you will see a different Walcott. …

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