Theo Walcott has yet to give up on his dream of playing for England at a World Cup as he first aims to break back into Arsenal’s Premier League side.
The 28-year-old has yet to start a league game for the Gunners this season and has been restricted to Carabao Cup and Europa League cameos.
He played his part in Thursday night’s 1-0 victory at Red Star Belgrade, exchanging passes with Jack Wilshere before heading across for Olivier Giroud to turn home a brilliant overhead kick.
Red Star had tested a much-changed Arsenal side – showing nine alterations from Saturday’s defeat at Watford – hitting the post in the first half before having Milan Rodic sent off minutes before Giroud struck.
Walcott was one of those to come into the team as the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette were left at home.
Now Walcott, who has never played for England at a World Cup despite a surprise call-up for the 2006 tournament when he was just 16, wants to earn his spot back in Arsenal’s Premier League XI to bolster his chances of going to Russia next summer.
Asked if he had extra motivation to get into the Arsenal side on a regular basis due to it being a World Cup year, he replied: “Of course. That is why I need to be playing football, simple as that.
“But I need to deserve to be playing. So in this competition, cup games, Premier League when given the chance, I need to take it.
“That is the only chance I have to get back into the England squad. It is down to hard work. If I work harder than anyone else… I know my qualities, how good I am.”
Walcott has not been named in an England squad in almost a year but feels his 47 caps and eight goals could aid Gareth Southgate’s inexperienced players heading into the tournament.
“I have got so much experience under my belt, there’s no reason why I can’t prove people wrong and get back in that squad,” he said.
“It is a very young squad and I feel like maybe a bit of experience is always handy coming into tournaments. But the manager picks that (the squad).”
Walcott admits a sense of frustration at his limited game-time this season but has backed himself to get back into Wenger’s side on a regular basis.
“I can’t lie, it has obviously been very difficult the way the season has started,” he added.
“I had such a big influence last year and the amount of goals I scored but now it has been a bit of a stuttering start to the season.
“The manager knows that I’ve always been there for him. I have managed to bounce back from worse things but it is just one of those things in football you have got to deal with.
“I am dealing with it in the right way and that’s to be completely focused. That’s all I can be.”