Arsene Wenger claims winger Theo Walcott is being put under "terrible pressure" to be fully fit in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. However, the Frenchman remains confident the 20-year-old will make England's squad after he made only his fifth Premier League start of the season in Saturday's 2-0 home win over Sunderland.
A series of injuries to his back, knee, hamstring and ribs have hampered Walcott's progress this season. Wenger has already warned it will take time for Walcott to find his rhythm, but firmly believes the player will be heading to the world finals as part of Fabio Capello's squad.
"The World Cup is not today," said Wenger. "It is in June. I think he will make the squad. The problem is that everyone has the England national team in their mind and, because you want to bring the World Cup back to London, you want everybody to be on top today.
"They will be in the long run but when players have been out for a while it takes a while to get back to your best with confidence, sharpness and zip. That will come back with Theo."
Capello was at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday with the media spotlight on Walcott throughout, and Wenger believes the scrutiny puts intense strain on the youngster. "It's terrible pressure," said the Arsenal manager. "But that's the modern media."
Wenger also believes club success could pave the way for England to have a good FIFA World Cup, with players who approach the competition in confident mood more likely to star for their country in South Africa. "They will be stronger at the World Cup if they come with a trophy and it has been a good a season," he opined.
"If they have something in their pocket they are in a strong position. We are still in two competitions and the most important thing is we try to do as well as we can.
"Sport is not what happens in six months. What happens now is important to us. I believe what is most important is the players focus on the club and achieve what they can for us."
Meanwhile, Nicklas Bendtner is ready to repay Wenger's faith in him by firing Arsenal to the title. The 22-year-old scored his fourth goal of the season in the win over Sunderland as the Gunners moved to within two points of second-placed Manchester United.
Wenger opted not to sign a forward last month because of Bendtner's impending return and the Dane said: "That faith is very important and all I have to do now is show him he made the right choice.
"I am sure he has and I have to show that on the pitch. I have been ready to carry the fans' hopes for some time - it is nothing new to me. It has been very frustrating because I set myself a target at the start of the season.
"Obviously, because of my injury it has been really difficult to make that target. It is nice to be back scoring again and I need to score two goals in all the remaining games to reach that."