No 'special pressure' on Walcott, insists Wenger

January 21, 2006

Arsene Wenger insists there will be no 'special pressure' on teenager Theo Walcott to become an instant hit at Arsenal.

Walcott cannot sign a professional contract with the Gunners until his 17th birthday on March 16, and will therefore join the Barclays Premiership club as a scholar until then after they paid Southampton an initial fee of £5million, with the rest of a £12million deal to be paid in instalments as the youngster develops.

Wenger has seen the likes of promising youngsters Jermaine Pennant, Richard Wright and Francis Jeffers all fail to make the most of their time at Highbury.

But the Arsenal manager maintains England Under-17 international Walcott will not be rushed into the first-team squad, and has given the youngster 10 days off before he will return to his new surroundings.

'He has to adapt, develop and to grow like any other boy of 16 without any special pressure,' said Wenger.

'If he plays in three weeks, in three months or six months I would not like to put him under that kind of pressure because there is no time-scale. When he is ready he will play. His attitude is predominant.

'What happens until you are 16 - you are a talented player. Between 16 and 18 your mental state takes shape and that shows how much you want to be a special guy, how much you want to be the best - and that is the next step.

'I believe he has the ingredients in his personality to be steady, determined and motivated enough to achieve that.'

Walcott became the youngest player ever to represent the Saints' first team this season, and is confident he has what it takes to cut it in the top flight after enjoying a taster of life in the Coca-Cola Championship.

'I always want to play but I have just got to work hard in training - that's the main thing,' the 16-year-old said.

'If I want to get into the first team I've got to perform in training.'

Disappointed Saints chairman Rupert Lowe has called for an overhaul of the academy system, labelling the move 'unsatisfactory' and insisting he had no option but to let his prized asset leave or risk the striker agreeing terms with another club once he turned 17.

Wenger, though, insisted: 'We would not have liked to have done that because we respect the system in England where we have done things the right way.

'We cannot go on one side when we are in a trial when people do not respect the rules and us try to turn the rules around.

'He had a moral agreement with Southampton to sign a professional contract, and the family and the agent wanted to respect that and I think that was right.

'They had the agreement and we did not want to push them out of the agreement.'

Pennant, now with Birmingham, added his congratulations to Walcott over the move to Arsenal.

He said: 'I'd like to congratulate Theo on his move to Arsenal and wish him all the best for the future. It is inevitable that comparisons will be made between his career and mine.

'I learned a lot at Arsenal and I'm sure Theo will benefit from being there.

'I'm really enjoying myself at Birmingham and am probably playing the best football of my career to date.

'A footballing education at Arsenal will always hold you in good stead.'