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Barca attack picking up steam

Barcelona 4 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Jan 20, 2006

Walcott completes Highbury deal

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes new signing Theo Walcott can emulate the achievements of Wayne Rooney, the last high-profile teenager to emerge in English football.

Walcott cannot sign a professional contract until his 17th birthday on March 16 and so will join the Barclays Premiership club as a scholar until then after they paid Southampton an initial fee of £5million, which could rise to £12million.

Chelsea were also reported to have been chasing the teenager's signature, but the chance of regular first-team football at Highbury appears to have been key to the player's decision to further his career in north London.

When asked whether Walcott could be compared to England and Manchester United striker Rooney, Wenger said: 'At his age, yes.

'Wayne Rooney has achieved a lot, and I want to be cautious with comparisons. But he has the same ingredients at the same age to be a big prospect for England.'

Wenger accepts it is a risk to sign a player who has made just 23 first-team appearances in the Coca-Cola Championship - but it is one he is prepared to take.

'It is always a gamble when you take young players. I believe his attitude is what I expect for a young player; his talent is what I expect from a young player - but the rest of it is a gamble,' he added in a press conference televised on Sky Sports News.

'When you buy any player it is gamble. When he is young it is bigger - but I am willing to take it.'

Wenger is delighted to have beaten competition from major rivals Chelsea to sign Walcott - and he feels that was down to the way Arsenal conducted their business.

'We were on the case longer than Chelsea. We monitored him for a couple of years, and emotions are not always rational,' he added.

'He loves the club; he loves some players here and was always a fan of Arsenal maybe. The facts are he feels he can play here and will get a chance here.'

Wenger denies he has guaranteed Walcott first-team football, and neither has the youngster asked for it.

He is also pleased to have signed a young English talent, hitting back at those who criticise him for taking on only foreign players.

'The young players get a chance here, and we have concrete proof to show that. He will be a part of project to go into a new stadium with some talent, some young English talent,' he said.

'But you earn your place in the football team. You earn your place through your competitiveness and your quality.

'We are looking to the future in a very big way, but also the present as well. The boy will be 17 in March, and at 17 you can play.

'Sometimes I get unjustly tried when I don't play English players. It is important for him [Walcott] to be English, because I think it is interesting to have a good mix of English and foreign players.'

Wenger has given Walcott some time off to adjust to his move and recover from a gruelling first half of the season with Southampton.

He also said he was not likely to be making any more moves in the transfer window, having previously signed Vassiriki Abou Diaby from Auxerre and Emmanuel Adebayor from Monaco.

'At the moment I feel three is just what is needed,' he concluded.