Will Walcott Be Missed by Arsenal? or England?
Nearly eight years ago, the England manager Sven Goran Eriksson made arguably the bravest (maybe the only brave) decision of his England tenure when he named 17-year-old Theo Walcott in his 2006 World Cup squad. Sadly, such a bold move was then negated by his subsequent short-sighted failure to give his young protégé a single minute on the field, making his presence in Germany totally futile and a mockery of the whole argument for his initial inclusion.
Four years later, Fabio Capello contraversially failed to include Walcott in his squad for South Africa, and now, as England's campaign in Brazil looms ahead, a cruciate ligament injury has apparently ruled Walcott out of the tournament, meaning that he will not get the chance to grace a World Cup till Russia 2018, by which time this promising young talent will be 29.
But how much will England miss him, and more immediately, how crucial will his absence be in Arsenal's attempt to claim their first premiership title for a decade? Despite his early introduction his England career has been sporadic rather than prolific, his five goals in 36 appearances highlighted by his hattrick in a World Cup qualifier in Croatia in 2010. He has, however, only come off the field twice as a loser in an England shirt, both in meaningless friendlies, so maybe he could claim to be something of a talisman.
Arsenal can claim him to more than that, as his impact for the Gunners can be seen to be a lot more impressive. Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Walcott can finally be seen to be coming of age, scoring 21 goals last season, to go with a further 6 between niggling injury layoffs this year.
In the 18 games in which he has featured this season, Arsenal have won 14, losing just two, while in the 13 matches without him, four have ended in defeat to go with two draws and seven victories. Of course, everything is relative: three of those four defeats without him were against the might of Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, against whom his impact might have been limited anyway, so it is all statistical conjecture. However, there can be no doubt that his five goals and five assists have been important, especially as Aaron Ramsey's early season purple patch is momentarily fading.
The final conclusion is perhaps that Walcott's injury is more of a cruel blow for him personally than a devastating blow for club or country. The emergence of Andros Townsend at the end of England's qualifying campaign put Walcott's starting position in doubt anyway, while the return to training of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the boost Arsenal needed that might prevent them panic buying in the January transfer window, and I think Mr Wenger would be more concerned with keeping Ozil and Giroud on the pitch than replacing Walcott, as it is they who seem to hold the key to turning Arsenal's early season promise into actual silverware.
For Walcott it is long haul back to fitness, and he'll be hoping his contribution to the season will be remembered for more than his cheeky 2-0 gesture to taunting Tottenham fans while being carted off on a stretcher.