Wenger to keep Walcott under wraps
© AFP

Theo Walcott has been feted as England's latest saviour this week, but the Arsenal youngster is about to be brought to earth with a thud.

Walcott, whose hat-trick in the FIFA World Cup™ qualifying win away to Croatia announced his international arrival in startling fashion, is set to be dropped by Arsene Wenger for Saturday's Premier League encounter with Blackburn Rovers as the Gunners manager tries to shield his teenage talent from a tough schedule.

The North London club must negotiate three games in a week, including a draining trip to Dynamo Kiev in the UEFA Champions League group stage, and Wenger has admitted that the 19-year-old's international heroics will not guarantee him a start.

"I don't know if he will play at Blackburn," Wenger said. "I will have to rotate the squad in the next three games because you cannot expect the players who have played in their national teams to play three times in a week. We have a very compact squad and people are interchangeable."

Wenger's reluctance to expose Walcott is not due to merely physical concerns. The Frenchman was as impressed as anyone by the striker's display for Fabio Capello's team, but he is also wary of the attention and expectations such performances will attract.

Wenger has been anxious to keep Walcott grounded, and the youngster was not spared an intensive training session on Thursday, just hours after England's flight landed back in London. But the Gunners' manager is also keen for English football followers, not renowned for their level-headedness, to beware of expecting too much too soon.

I was not surprised by what he did because he is a player who has good timing with his runs and is a clinical finisher
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on Theo Walcott's performance in Zagreb in midweek

"," added Wenger. "I always believed that he will be a fantastic player and I was never concerned. He has become more of a man recently.

"But what happened in Croatia we have to consider to be an exception. Even for players of 25, 26 to score three goals in an international game is a one-off. What is very good is that he has the confidence of Capello in that he plays at that level at 19 years of age.

"You always have two feelings as a manager. First, you are always very happy that what you expect from him is happening. But the other is that we know too well what is happening in this country and that the level of expectation will be too high. We cannot be popular, and also then be afraid of the level of expectation and criticism. That is the price to pay and you must be strong enough to deal with that. Theo will have to deal with that, but he has had that since he was 17."

Supermarket
Walcott's remarkable transformation from bit-part player to international galactico virtually overnight was not the only issue vexing Wenger ahead of the trip to Ewood Park. He also had strong words for Manchester City's new owners, the Abu Dhabi United Group, who he claimed had turned the English transfer market into a "supermarket".

"My thinking is the clubs should live within their natural resources," he said. "If you push that too far, there are no rules any more. Once you get to the prices mentioned on the TV or in the newspapers, where is the logic? There is too much destabilisation," Wenger said. "Football is not a supermarket.

"There is money in the game, and I take it in a positive way, but the football bodies have to make sure that money is ruled properly and used well for the ethic of the game."

Blackburn have more immediate concerns. The Lancashire club are already preparing to fight for their manager Paul Ince, who is attracting interest from Newcastle despite only being appointed at Ewood Park in the summer.

Ince is a close friend of Dennis Wise, the Tyneside club's executive director (football), and while Rovers officials claim to be confident of deflecting their interest, Ince has made no secret of his ambition to manage at a higher level. A victory over one of the Premier League's big four will enchance Ince's reputation still further.