Arsenal and England were last night devastated by the news that Theo Walcott will miss the rest of the season and the World Cup with a ruptured knee ligament.
Walcott was smiling as he was carried off on a stretcher during Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday and while initial reports suggested that the forward had only sprained his ligaments, the diagnosis from Arsenal last night was far worse.
“The club regrettably announces that Theo Walcott has sustained a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee,” read a club statement. “Theo will have surgery in London in the near future and is expected to be out for at least six months, therefore missing the remainder of the season and the World Cup in Brazil in the summer.”
The news is a shock to England’s World Cup preparations. Walcott, when fit and on form, would be a probable starter on the right wing. The 24-year-old has often been a first choice of Roy Hodgson, having started both of the World Cup qualifiers this season against Moldova and Ukraine before missing the next two with a shoulder injury, from which he had only just returned.
Transfer news: Strikers Arsenal could sign in January
Transfer news: Strikers Arsenal could sign in January
1/7 Diego Costa
The Atletico Madrid star has recently signed a new contract to remain in the Spanish capital, although it is reported that a £32m release clause can be activated to try and negotiate a move. Costa’s decision to leave Atletico would be surprising though, given their competitiveness in La Liga as they sit level on points with leaders Barcelona, and also their brilliant run in the Champions League. A move to London could also jeopardise his hopes of making the Spain squad for the 2014 World Cup after electing to play for the reigning champions rather than his native Brazil.
2/7 Dimitar Berbatov
His agent has already claimed that the Bulgarian would like to leave Fulham this month despite his contract expiring at the end of the season. With £2m believed to be enough to secure the former Tottenham and Manchester United striker, it would be a low cost, low risk option, but questions remain over his work rate and energy levels, and Wenger has denied any interest on his part. Whether Berbatov would quench the thirst of fans who feel another striker in integral to their title hopes remains uncertain, but he does come with a natural talent that few in the Premier League can match – if only he produced it regularly.
3/7 Karim Benzema
The Real Madrid striker was linked with a move away from the club in the summer after struggling to produce the form required to spearhead an attack that includes Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. But the Frenchman has since hit his best, and a much mooted move to Arsenal now appears off the cards with Carlo Ancelotti determined not to sell. Benzema would no doubt be a world class acquisition that would provide further optimism at the Emirates that the Gunners are here to stay at the top, but it may take in excess of £30m (and thus bankroll a Real move for Luis Suarez) to trigger any chance of signing him this month.
Verdict: The slimmest of chances
4/7 Alvaro Morata
Benzema’s colleague at Real Madrid has been linked with a short-term move in the hope of seeking regular first team action, with Arsenal and Tottenham at the forefront of those rumours. Ancelotti’s desire not to let any players depart again causes an issue, but chances of securing Morata are much higher given Benzema’s current standing as the starting striker. Unproven, Morata would be an exciting talent but also back-up to Giroud, and you would have to question a decision to move to the Emirates when first team football is by no means guaranteed.
5/7 Mario Mandzukic
The Bayern Munich striker looks set to be displaced in his role as lead striker at the end of the season by the recently acquired Robert Lewandowski, and reports this morning suggest that Arsenal are one of the clubs interest in his services. A proven goalscorers, the Croatian would add experience and talent to the squad, but he’s unlikely to jump ship with Bayern on course for another trophy-laden season.
Verdict: Watch this space in summer
6/7 Loic Remy
On loan at Newcastle from Queens Park Rangers, Remy is available in January should Rangers receive a good enough offer. Remy has looked sharp throughout the first half of the season, leading the line for the Magpies with 10 goals in 18 appearances. It could take over £10m to acquire the Frenchman though, but Remy would inject a turn of pace that Giroud does seem to lack at the moment.
Verdict: Very possible
Swansea’s signing of the season last year hasn’t been as prolific this term, but his eye for a goal remains undoubted given his 22 goals in all competitions during his first year at the Liberty Stadium. However, Michu is currently on the sidelines through injury and would be a pointless signing to solve the current injury situation that the Gunners have. Despite links with the Spaniard, this move looks like a complete no-go.
Verdict: No chance
Hodgson took Walcott to Euro 2012, where he scored in the 3-2 defeat of Sweden, coming on in all four of England’s games.
Walcott has been consistently unfortunate regarding World Cups, though, a painful run that is set to continue. Sven Goran Eriksson took him as a 17-year-old to Germany in 2006, before he had even made a senior appearance for Arsenal, but did not use him in the tournament.
England did not qualify for Euro 2008 and at the next World Cup Fabio Capello made a surprising late decision not to take Walcott in his squad. Even though the winger had scored a hat-trick in a qualifier in Croatia in September 2008, he had some difficult times in friendlies against Egypt, Mexico and Japan, and Capello chose Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips instead.
Walcott will now need to wait until Russia 2018 – when he will be 29 – at the earliest to make his first appearance for England in a World Cup. For this summer’s tournament, the right-wing slot is set to be contested between Andros Townsend, who impressed in the crucial last two qualifiers, scoring on his debut against Montenegro, Lennon, who is starting to find form again for Tottenham, and Manchester City’s James Milner. Youngsters Raheem Sterling and Tom Ince may also be able to stake a claim.
The news is also a blow to his club. Walcott fulfils a crucial tactical role at Arsenal as their only player able to stretch the opposition with his pace. He started all of Arsenal’s first seven matches of the season before sustaining an abdominal injury which ruled him out for two months. Walcott returned in late November, and started their last six straight games, five on the right wing and the sixth up front. He scored twice in the 6-3 defeat at Manchester City last month, twice in the 3-1 win at West Ham United on Boxing Day and the second in the 2-0 defeat of Cardiff City on New Year’s Day.
Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, will now come under increased pressure to go into the transfer market this month as his striking options diminish further. Olivier Giroud, who has started 26 of Arsenal’s 31 competitive games this season, is clearly tired and missed their last two games with an ankle injury. Nicklas Bendtner injured himself scoring against Cardiff and will be out for most of this month with an ankle sprain. Lukas Podolski missed months with a hamstring tear and is still nowhere near full sharpness.
On the wing, Arsenal should have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returning later this month but he is not quite the same player. Up front, though, they will need to find an alternative to Giroud as soon as possible. They have already been linked with a move for Fulham’s disaffected forward Dimitar Berbatov.
“Everyone at Arsenal wishes Theo a speedy recovery,” the official statement concluded, “and we look forward to seeing him back on a football pitch as soon as possible.”