Theo Walcott injury: Six-month lay-off devastates Arsenal and England

The forward was injured in the Gunners' 2-0 FA Cup third round victory over Tottenham

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.

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.

Theo Walcott is stretchered off the pitch during the match against Tottenham Hotspur Theo Walcott is stretchered off the pitch during the match against Tottenham Hotspur (Reuters)
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.”

Comment: Arsenal forward Theo Walcott has the personality and ability to bounce back from six-month lay-off  

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