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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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By ESPN Staff

Grounded Walcott ready for young Gunners

Arsenal starlet Theo Walcott admits he struggled to find his form recently but would love to illuminate the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff Sunday.

The 17-year-old had to endure a whirlwind of publicity after his multi-million pound move to Arsenal from Southampton and shock call-up to the England World Cup squad.

Recent performances have been disappointing - he was below par despite the Carling Cup semi-final triumph against Tottenham and bullied out of the game against Blackburn last weekend.

Arsenal Wenger then decided the youngster needed a break and did not even take him to Eindhoven last week as part of Gunners' Champions League squad to face PSV.

However, the exciting forward has been an important player in the Gunners' journey to Sunday's Carling Cup final with Chelsea and is hopeful of impressing in Cardiff.

'The fans are great but it has been hard, because you just want to play. But I'm only 17 and playing in the first team at Arsenal, probably the best club in the world I'd say.

'I've got a long way to go yet.

'I would say my levels have dropped a bit for my standards but I'm working hard at every game and in training I'm working hard to get a start in the final against Chelsea, hopefully.'

The awesome benchmark for Walcott is to one day replace Thierry Henry as the darling of the Emirates. The Frenchman, 29, is one of those who fervently hopes it will come true.

Walcott, who will be 18 next month, said: 'He hasn't mentioned it but I read it in his book.

'Basically the best advise he's given me is to play my normal game and don't worry about anything else. I don't really worry, I've not got anything to worry about.

'It's just brilliant to watch him in training and learn from him and all the other players.'

When he broke through so early at Southampton, many expected him to go to Chelsea where he had been a ball-boy on one occasion when his favourite team, Liverpool visited Stamford Bridge.

But he signed instead for Wenger's Arsenal academy - another surprise in his unorthodox football career which he took up late after considering other sports such as athletics and basketball.

He recalls: 'There was always a chance I could have gone to Chelsea, but then it was always going to be Southampton,' he said.

'I was 10 going on 11 when I was a ball-boy there. I only started playing football late.

'But I've joined the best club I would say. Southampton were brilliant to me but I thought I needed to push my career on. I just need to work hard in training and hopefully get a start on Sunday.

'My life has changed rapidly of course, what with the World Cup and coming to Arsenal, but I haven't let it get on top of me. I'm still the normal person I was at Southampton.

'I worked hard to get here so I shouldn't really be pinching myself. I worked hard at Southampton and here where the boss has given me a chance, which is brilliant.'