Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MY FAVOURITE GAME OF THE SEASON; Theo Walcott Relishes the North London Derby Even When It's at White Hart Lane; EXCLUSIVE

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

MY FAVOURITE GAME OF THE SEASON; Theo Walcott Relishes the North London Derby Even When It's at White Hart Lane; EXCLUSIVE

Article excerpt

Byline: JamesOlley Chief Football Correspondent

THEO WALCOTT once apologised for stirring his cappuccino too loudly at the start of an interview. For this chat with Standard Sport, he emerges from the tunnel at Emirates Stadium holding a bottle, mindful that it will soon be feeding time for nine-month-old son Finley, who has just watched his first live game as Arsenal thump Aston Villa 5-0. This is not someone spoiling for a fight in the week leading up to a north London derby. The 25-year-old is undoubtedly an Arsenal man but he retains great respect for Tottenham, even if there is occasionally a mischievous edge.

Walcott has navigated the path from wonderkid to established international without allowing critical scrutiny or football hyperbole to consume him. He has retained a sense of humour grounded in reality and it is from this place that he chose to remind Spurs fans of the score while being carried off on a stretcher in an FA Cup tie between the two sides in January last year.

The Gunners won 2-0 but Walcott spent the next 10 months on the sidelines with anterior cruciate ligament damage. He then suffered a groin inflammation while training with England in November which extended his wait to start a match for club or country to exactly a year, when Arsenal beat Hull 2-0 in this year's third round.

Consequently, Walcott missed September's 1-1 draw against Tottenham at Emirates Stadium and so Saturday's lunchtime encounter will be his first since the interaction with Spurs fans he describes as nothing more than that footballing catch-all phrase, "banter".

"That is in the past," he said. "Me and the Tottenham fans have a good relationship in terms of the banter side of things. That's what comes with football. This is a massive game and it is all about the bragging rights.

"Things like that have happened in the past and it won't be forgotten about, I'm sure, but it is one thing I've moved on from. Every player will get stick I am sure but it is about just trying to go out there and perform.

"Any criticism won't affect me at all. It is enjoyable -- it's a bit different and it is always a great atmosphere at White Hart Lane. It is probably the fixture I always look forward to playing in the most, to be fair. It is one of the biggest games for both sets of fans and this year it is going to be tight."

Walcott comes into the match in promising form as he seeks to regain full match fitness. He has scored goals on successive Sundays, against Brighton and Villa, and played in four of Arsenal's last five matches, all of which they have won.

The Gunners have not lost since their New Year's Day defeat at Southampton and last month's victory at Manchester City has engendered a self-belief and work-rate that has shown no signs of abating. …

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