Walcott back on upward curve

LONDON - The last time Theo Walcott scored a hat-trick it helped England to a memorable 4-1 World Cup qualifying win over Croatia and seemed to lay down an international marker after the false dawn of 2006.

Walcott, 19 at the time of the 2008 Zagreb game, was picked ahead of David Beckham and destroyed Croatia with his pace and finishing and showed why then-coach Sven-Goran Eriksson plucked him from obscurity for his World Cup squad two years earlier.

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However, a combination of injuries and a frustrating failure to turn enough of his full back-roasting runs into scoring opportunities for himself or team mates meant his star began to wane.

The winger has not managed another international goal since Zagreb while last year he produced just four for Arsenal. On Saturday Walcott scored three times as the Londoners thumped promoted Blackpool 6-0 in the Premier League.

A maddening failure to deliver an accurate cross, and a seemingly uncanny ability to take the wrong option when galloping clear, contributed to England coach Fabio Capello's decision to leave him out of the 2010 World Cup squad.

The Italian recalled Walcott for this month's friendly against Hungary and though he did not exactly light up Wembley he will have been buoyed, if a little confused, to be back in favour so soon.

Capello would have been delighted by Walcott's display on Saturday as he inspired Arsenal, although they were aided by the sending-off of visiting defender Ian Evatt after 31 minutes when the score was 1-0.


Walcott had put Arsenal ahead with a simple finish and also made it 3-0 in the 39th minute after a neat turn.

In between his goals he roared up and down the line at a pace that mesmerised Blackpool, although his final delivery was again inconsistent.

Nobody was talking about his wayward crosses however after his classy third goal, which showed touch, balance, awareness and a cool finish.

"For that third goal, his running off the ball, his control and his finish, I've not seen a better goal by an English player in recent years and that is exactly what we have been expecting ever since we saw him as a youngster," former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown told BBC radio.

"This is the best I've seen Theo Walcott play. Now he needs to show he's not content with this and push on and keep trying to get better.

"His decision-making today stood out -- he did the things we expected to see him doing two years ago so clearly (manager) Arsene Wenger is getting the message across."

Wenger was also happy with what he saw from a player who, for all his ups and downs, is still only 21.

"What was pleasing today with Theo was he made right decisions in the final third and was calm in front of goal," said the Frenchman.

"He could finish but also give final balls. That shows he has improved.

"I never had a doubt about it. He's an intel