Walcott targets England striker role with Rooney injured
ARSENAL'S Theo Walcott is hoping to lead the line for England if Wayne Rooney does not recover from an ankle injury in time to face Estonia at Wembley today.
The Manchester United and England captain is a major doubt for the Euro 2016 qualifier after missing two training sessions, with England manager Roy Hodgson reportedly set to name Gary Cahill skipper if Rooney misses the game.
Hodgson has used Walcott mostly on the right for England, but the 26-year-old has impressed in a central role for his club this season and has admitted that is where he wants to play for the national team as well.
"I know everyone would like to see me up front," Walcott said before the Estonia game. "Playing there for England, that's what I want to do."
England qualified for next year's finals in France with a 6-0 victory in San Marino on Sept 5 and have won all eight of their qualifiers so far.
Walcott, who grabbed a brace in the San Marino game and has 12 goals in his last 14 Premier League starts, revealed that his improved form was down to advice from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and former teammate Thierry Henry, who is back at the club in a coaching role.
"He (Wenger) asked if I could be more aggressive on the pitch," Walcott said. "I actually said (to Wenger), 'Do you want me to start kicking people?' That was my first reaction. He said, 'No, I'm not saying that.' He wanted me to be more aggressive in terms of running at players, closing them down, tracking back, being there and in their faces."
The striker also said Henry has been a key factor in his improvement.
"I have been chatting to him on a personal level behind the scenes as well to learn things from him," Walcott said. "It is a great tool to have in the locker... I've had quite a few words with him about some of the games I've played.
"He has just given me his analysis and if I've needed to ask him some questions about it, he's always there." Rooney is due to attend the match even if unfit in order to receive a commemorative golden boot from Bobby Charlton, whose record of 49 goals he surpassed with a penalty against Switzerland last month.
Tottenham Hotspur teenager Dele Alli is one of several players hoping to make an impression today.
With nothing riding on the game, manager Roy Hodgson may use it to give central midfielder Alli a first taste of senior international football.
"He's really pushed on," said goalkeeper Joe Hart of Alli, who signed for Spurs from Milton Keynes Dons for an initial fee of £5 million in February and has made four Premier League starts to date this season, scoring once.
"He had a good season last season and Tottenham look like they've given him confidence by putting him in their very good side.
"It's good to get him in and he's going to be in and around the England squad for a very long time."
Liverpool striker Danny Ings - who, like Alli, is uncapped - is nursing an ankle injury of his own, but Hodgson also has Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy at his disposal.
Rooney scored a late free kick to give England a 1-0 win when the teams last met a year ago in Tallinn; a game overshadowed by the fallout from Hodgson's claim that Raheem Sterling had told him he was too tired to play.
Sterling, who is in the squad to face Estonia, revisited the incident in a recent interview with The Guardian, in which the Manchester City forward denied saying that he had not wanted to play.
With two matches of the qualifying campaign remaining, Estonia remain in contention for a place at next year's tournament in France, but they have little margin for error.
They trail Slovenia by two points in the scramble for third place, which will yield a play-off berth, and if Slovenia defeat Lithuania on Friday and Estonia fail to beat England, Magnus Pehrsson's side will no longer be able to qualify.