A glance at the squad put through their paces at St George's Park revealed England's issue of the moment. Daniel Sturridge and Jermain Defoe were resting up on Tuesday and notable only for their absence. Rickie Lambert is raw at this level, Danny Welbeck still classed as promising rather than prolific, and then there was Wayne Rooney. Or rather, there wasn't.

The most seasoned striker in the current national setup is back at home, his forehead split and stitched after Saturday's training-ground accident with Phil Jones and a picture of his wound doing the rounds among his team-mates.

"It's like something out of a horror film," said Theo Walcott, who had spied the photograph in the physios' room. "It's a very, very big gash, not nice to see. It's not going to help his looks, I wouldn't think. Everyone knows how massive a threat Wayne is. Now we'll have to step up because we know how big these games are."

The Arsenal winger will be one of the first upon whom Roy Hodgson will lean. Not long ago Walcott had felt peripheral for club and country, a player whose jet-propelled talent had lacked focus or fulfilment. There was that staggering hat‑trick in Croatia in 2008, but only flashes of form since.

Now, though, he is integral. A key player at Arsenal, where he can cut opponents to shreds from the right or plunder goals through the centre, he has found his feet with England. His equaliser against Scotland last month was his first goal at Wembley for his country, and only a fifth in 34 appearances, but Hodgson appears to have tapped into his talent.

The challenge now, of course, is for the 24-year-old to flourish consistently and provide the national team – in Rooney's absence – with a cutting edge with vital World Cup qualifiers ahead against Moldova at Wembley on Friday and in Kiev against Ukraine next Tuesday.

"I feel like one of the oldest guys in the team at the moment, actually," said Walcott. "But you know what? I feel like I should be here. Maybe a few years ago I was a bit timid but I feel like this is where I should be and where I want to play my football.

"I enjoy working with the manager, and he has so much faith in me as well. Because of the way I have been playing for Arsenal, [Hodgson] is seeing that with England and I'm starting to show that belief in myself as well. I am actually performing like I do for Arsenal. It is great when the manager picks you: you know you deserve to be here as one of the best 23 guys in England. I know he picks players on form and you want to impress in training but I feel like I've started the season where I finished the last one."

England need his bite and invention given there has arguably been an over-reliance on set pieces to eke out goals in recent times. Hodgson's team have scored 26 times in 10 competitive matches over his stewardship but, take out the 8-0 and 5-0 routs of San Marino in Group H, and there have been only six goals in eight games from open play. Walcott, such a lightning threat on the break, can transform that tally if offered space in which to prosper. In anticipation of Tuesday's awkward game in Kiev, his contribution could be key.

"Goals have been a big thing in my game, even if getting 21 last year was more than I thought I'd get, to be honest," he added. "Everything was just going so well. People expect more from me at Arsenal now: I'm 24, I'm reaching the top of my game and I expect those demands. I know I can deal with the pressure. Now the next step is getting goals for England as well. But, if I am creating chances and the team is winning, that is the most important thing. I don't just like to think of personal records. Focus on the team.

"I know we need to get these wins which are very important not just for the team but everyone out there supporting us. We want to get to Brazil and be at the top of the game. Hopefully we can get there and it will be my first World Cup as a player. Everyone is relying on us.

"If England aren't at a major finals, it doesn't feel right. You want the best countries and the best players at the World Cup, and you want to test yourself. But I believe this team is good enough."

Rooney's absence may be a headache in the short-term, but there is conviction within this party that others, and Walcott in particular, can thrive with added responsibility.