LONDON, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Theo Walcott returns to the England starting lineup for the first time in a year for Gareth Southgate’s opening game in charge at home to Malta in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday with Wayne Rooney again leading the side.
Arsenal forward Walcott, left out of England’s Euro 2016 squad despite playing in the qualifiers, has been rewarded for an impressive start to the season for Arsenal.
Southgate, thrust into the limelight after Sam Allardyce was sacked after 67 days following a Daily Telegraph sting, also said Rooney would start the Group F match at Wembley.
Rooney was dropped by Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho last month and has struggled for form.
Walcott, capped 44 times since his debut 10 years ago, last started for England against Estonia 12 months ago, scoring a goal in the 2-0 Euro 2016 qualifying victory.
Poor club form meant he was not part of Roy Hodgson’s squad in France, but he did come on as a substitute last month during the 1-0 win away to Slovakia in Allardyce’s only game in charge.
Walcott has scored five goals in eight appearances for Arsenal so far this season having reverted to a wide role.
“I don’t want this time to stop. I have been working hard and I want to be better than the opposition,” Walcott told a news conference ahead of the Malta clash.
”It is stuff people won’t see, but deep down you know you are ready for the match having trained well during the week.
“I want this form to continue and you have the support of the team mates too. It is a completely new bunch of players but we want to put the disappointment of the Euros right, there is no reason why we cannot do better.”
England’s dismal flop at the Euro 2016 finals, where they were knocked out by Iceland in the last 16, left the national team at a low ebb but Southgate wants to banish any negativity.
“This is a great opportunity to show what English players can do,” the England under 21 manager, who has taken over the senior squad on an interim basis for four games, said.
”I keep hearing about what English players cannot do, but I have seen what they can do. I want them to show it.
“I expect us to control the game.”
While Malta should not provide much resistance, England face a tougher test next week away to Slovenia. (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)