x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Walcott for striker

The Arsenal star says that he expects to play as a central striker for club and country starting tonight against Germany in the European Championship U21 final.

England's Theo Walcott, left, will have a more central role to play in tonight's final .
England's Theo Walcott, left, will have a more central role to play in tonight's final .

MALMO // Theo Walcott is expected to play as a central striker for England Under 21s in their European Championship final against Germany tonight - and he predicts that position will be his long-term role for club and country. Walcott has spent most of his career stationed on the flanks, but England U21 coach Stuart Pearce has Gabriel Agbonlahor and Fraizer Campbell suspended for tonight's clash.

The only realistic option is Walcott, with Pearce believing the Arsenal youngster's pace will be a problem for the Germans, even though the 20-year-old has rarely played centrally. "I probably will end up being a striker," Walcott said. "The boss at Arsenal [Arsene Wenger] said I would have probably played little bit more up front last season if I'd not got injured, like in FA Cup games and Carling Cup games. But I'll play anywhere as long as I'm on that pitch."

Starting on the wing and ending up as a striker was the path of Gunners' Thierry Henry, with Walcott inheriting his No 14 shirt. He was also given 14 when he made himself available for the U21 squad, despite establishing himself in the seniors. "I didn't expect to get it but it's an absolute result," Walcott added yesterday. "It doesn't really matter what number is on the back. As long as it's an England shirt I'm happy.

"I actually wanted the No 8 shirt at Arsenal but they told me Samir Nasri had that. I didn't even know we'd signed him at the time. "So they told me 14 and I said 'yeah, I'll have that' not realising it was Thierry's number until I got home. It's just a number but he's a great player to live up to. That's the pressure. That's no problem." Meanwhile, Germany will be without one of their central players due to suspension: Wolfsburg's burgeoning Iranian-born attacker Ashkan Dejagah, who picked up a yellow in the semi- final against Italy on Friday.

While England could be lamenting the loss of Joe Hart, Germany will be praising their own glovesman Manuel Neuer, who put in a touch of a goalkeeping masterclass to keep his sheet clean against the Italians. * PA Sport