'Distraught' Walcott out for up to five weeks

Arsenal youngster's latest knee injury ends hopes of a call-up to full England squad
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The Independent Football

Theo Walcott has been ruled out of England's forthcoming internationals, including the World Cup qualifier against Ukraine, with the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, fearing a knee injury sustained yesterday may mean the 20-year-old is unable to play for at least five weeks. England manager Fabio Capello had hoped Walcott would prove his fitness against Newcastle today before naming his senior squad for the two Wembley matches – the other is a friendly against Slovakia next Saturday – tomorrow evening.

However, Walcott was sent for a scan yesterday afternoon after his right knee "locked" following training at Arsenal's London Colney complex. Walcott was walking back to the changing rooms when he felt his knee go with Wenger later saying: "He's completely distraught. He was walking off the pitch and he felt his knee. It locked up and started to swell. It could be cartilage [damage]."

The set-back is a blow to Walcott who has only just recovered from a four-month absence following shoulder surgery. "He is strong mentally but today I found he is really shocked," said Wenger. "It will be three weeks minimum and five before he is ready to play. That means the beginning of May." With the business end of the season about to begin it appears to be very bad news for Arsenal.

Wenger's gloom reflected an initial diagnosis with Arsenal waiting for further medical advice last night following the scans. Although Walcott's absence from England reduces Capello's options, the Italian was far from certain to pick him for his senior squad in any case as he vied with the in-form Aaron Lennon and with Shaun Wright-Phillips for a place in the 23-man selection.

Walcott, like Lennon, had been named in the Under-21s, for their friendlies against Norway (27 March) and France (31 March), but both were also on stand-by to be in Capello's main squad. The manager has named players before who were originally selected by Stuart Pearce, the England Under-21 coach, who works closely with Capello.

Indeed Walcott was unlikely, unless he had played brilliantly today, to have been chosen by Capello, who has been impressed by Lennon's return to form, because he still lacks match fitness. Lennon, meanwhile, along with defender Jonathan Woodgate, impressed when watched by England general manager Franco Baldini during Spurs' victory over Aston Villa last weekend. The 21-year-old winger, who, it was announced yesterday, has signed a contract extension keeping him at White Hart Lane until 2014, will be further assessed in today's League meeting at home to Chelsea.

With pace being an asset Capello believes England, at times, lack it's likely that Lennon, or Wright-Phillips, will be selected to vie for the right midfield berth along with David Beckham. With Walcott injured it could be, however, that both are now picked. Capello also has the fit-again Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard at his disposal – both missed the recent friendly defeat away to Spain and, barring injury, will be selected.

With the tailing off of Gabriel Agbonlahor's form it will be interesting to see if he retains his place. However, Capello is likely to decide not to damage the Villa striker's confidence further by leaving him out and, again, he is one of the few genuinely quick players England can call upon.

Goalkeeper Ben Foster also has a strong chance of securing a place in Capello's squad for the first time, having impressed for Manchester United in the Carling Cup Final. Capello has been intending to select Foster for some time, and rates him highly, but has been concerned about his lack of first-team football.

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