Arsene Wenger believes Theo Walcott is “more of a complete player” this season – even though the Arsenal forward has been left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Walcott, who turned 28 on Thursday, was a surprise omission from Southgate’s squad to face Germany and Lithuania, with the likes of Nathan Redmond and Jesse Lingard preferred instead.
The former Southampton youngster has enjoyed one of his best seasons to date and has hit 17 goals in just 24 appearances across all competitions.
Speaking before the England squad announcement, Wenger said that Walcott has shown he can perform on the biggest stage.
“He has become more of a complete player, more efficient,” the Frenchman said when asked about Walcott’s development.
“He does better in the tactical part of his game and works hard defensively and offensively. He has been less injured as well, that helps.
“He has turned up in big games as well, he can score goals in big games. He showed that against Bayern, he scored the goal and I think it was a penalty on him and he can influence games.
“The major quality of Theo is the quality of his receptions – that means he gets the ball in areas where he is extremely dangerous and that is a very intelligent part of a football player.”
Southgate did leave the door open for Walcott to find his way back into his plans and conceded he did not expect the player to be pleased about dropping out of the squad.
“It is a really tough call on him,” the England boss said.
“(It’s) one I don’t expect him to be chuffed to bits about, but I wanted to look at a couple of others. He’s still very much in our plans, and can force his way back.”
Wenger also praised Walcott for giving the right reaction to being left out of Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions squad for last summer’s ill-fated European Championship campaign.
“He is a focused player and was not picked for the European Championships,” said Wenger.
“Always in life you try and get to the next level when things don’t go for you or you think you do everything right and continue to live like you did before – and he had the right response. He said ‘what do I need to do to get higher up?’ and he did it.”
Walcott hit his 100th Arsenal goal in the 2-0 FA Cup win over Sutton last month and has now racked up as many FA Cup goals for the Gunners as Ian Wright.
After years of insisting he saw himself as a central striker, Walcott had an epiphany last summer and asked Wenger to be kept out wide – with the 67-year-old pleased with the results.
“I was always convinced, because of the quality of his runs, that he was a central striker,” he added.
“He for a while was as well but he made up his mind during the summer break and he feels more comfortable on the right.”
Asked if he had been told by Walcott where he wanted to play, Wenger replied: “Yes.
“He is fair, he said ‘if you give me the choice I would prefer to play on the right but if you need I will play through the middle’. (On the right) is his preferred position and it is true that it is where he is most efficient.”