Walcott strikes back against the critics with St Mary's goal

Theo Walcott scored on his return to Southampton on Tuesday night – and vowed to ignore the critics as his career at Arsenal still waits to take off. The teenager netted the third in England U21s 3-0 Euro 2009 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at

Theo Walcott scored on his return to Southampton on Tuesday night - and vowed to ignore the critics as his career at Arsenal still waits to take off.

The teenager netted the third in England U21s' 3-0 Euro 2009 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland at a rain-sodden St Mary's to take his tally for the Young Lions to five, one more than he has managed for the Gunners.

"I don't pay any attention to the criticism about me," said a defiant Walcott, who signed from the Saints in January 2006. "The only ones I listen to are my family and close friends. I just try to get on with football and try to perform every game."

His international manager, Stuart Pearce, called for the young player to be given time to learn the game.


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"Pace is the one thing defenders fear the most," added Pearce. "But it is not about the goal. He will be judged by me over how he does over 90 minutes.

"Up front on your own is a difficult position and a fantastic part of his education.

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"He's started every match for me in the campaign, at Arsenal he's making more starts, he just has to keep learning the game.

"People probably expect too much from him but I think he's developing nicely.

"He's working for a fantastic club manager in Arsene Wenger at a fantastic football club."

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger says Chelsea's stunning recent form means the Barclays Premier League title remains a three-horse race.

The Blues have defied the odds, despite a number of key players missing, to stay in touch with Arsenal and Manchester United.

Avram Grant's side drew 1-1 at Portsmouth at the weekend to end a run of nine successive wins, but are six points off the top, with the Gunners and United still to travel to Stamford Bridge.

"I don't rule out Chelsea because they have to play at home against Man United and Arsenal," said Wenger.

"They have already put wins together when they have had players out. I don't think we can rule them out, it will be among these three.

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