Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger feels Theo Walcott is a "bit edgy" after so long on the sidelines, but hopes to soon see the best of him again.
The pacy England forward has featured just twice since being out for almost a year with a serious knee injury, his latest setback being a groin problem suffered while training with England earlier in the season.
Walcott has been an unused substitute for each of Arsenal’s last three games but may well be given a run-out against former club Southampton today or unleashed from the start in the FA Cup tie with Hull on Sunday.
Wenger admits the 25-year-old is “impatient” to return, but must be managed carefully.
“He is certainly a bit edgy as he has been out for so long,” said Wenger.
“Theo has been out for one year, so he has to go for contact and today the game does not forgive you any lack of contact or defensive focus and we have to get that (right).
“You must have that in your mind and have to go through that.
“He has been impatient, of course. Theo is 25, going to 26 and this is an important part in his life for a player.”
Walcott’s recovery was hampered by a groin injury sustained while away with England during the November internationals, a period when Wenger hoped the forward would boost his match fitness with a run-out in the friendly against Scotland.
“I regret it, yes,” Wenger said. “At the time it looked a good opportunity for him to get a game because England played a friendly against Scotland and I thought a game or one half of a game would help him get through that and play at a high level competition, but he came back injured.”
Arsenal have struggled for consistency this season but Wenger remains confident 2015 can turn out to be a vintage year.
Victory at St Mary’s would lift Arsenal back into the top four and leave them within striking distance of third-placed Manchester United.
Arsenal, who have a doubt over forward Danny Welbeck because of a thigh problem, hope to have the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and eventually Jack Wilshere all fit again in the first quarter of 2015, which Wenger feels will give his squad an opportunity to deliver the consistent performances needed.
“I believe that there is a deficit between the potential we have shown and the number of points we have, that is what we want to get right,” said Wenger.
“Now it is time to catch back the points that we lost now until the end of the season.
“I feel we were very, very unlucky with the injuries we got, but with the number of injuries we have had, we have survived quite well.
“I feel it is nearly impossible that we will have the same bad luck on the injury front that we had in 2014.”
For his part, Ronald Koeman believes Southampton can finish above the Gunners in the Premier League this season and break Wenger’s record of 18 consecutive top-four Premier League finishes.
Southampton are currently ahead of Arsenal on goal difference and Koeman believes his side can “surprise people” and buck the trend of financial clout defining Premier League success.
“I think so,” said Koeman when asked if Southampton can finish ahead of Arsenal this term.
“We are now halfway through the season and we have played all the teams, and I believe still that we can fight for a top place in the league.
“Maybe it was unrealistic before the season, and maybe that has changed a little bit with how we have played up until now.”
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