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What Theo Walcott's Injury Means for Arsenal and England

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04:   (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission of image #460558025 with an alternate crop) Theo Walcott of Arsenal lies injured on the pitch during the Budweiser FA Cup third round match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on January 4, 2014 in London, England.  The injury sustained has led England and Arsenal forward Walcott to be ruled out for six months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury which will see him miss out on the 2014 World Cup.(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

Arsenal's injury list hasn't gotten any better of late, and the news that Theo Walcott will miss six months with a knee ligament rupture puts a sour note on the start of 2014 for the Gunners.

Walcott needs an operation, as per BBC Sport, which means he will play no further part in this Premier League campaign, or indeed in the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil.

Club and country will miss his impact, with Walcott having scored five goals in his last five league games after recovering from another, minor, injury earlier in the season.

B/R's Will Carroll has the lowdown on what the injury means for the player in the short and long term, but both Arsenal and England will now have to focus their attentions on how to cope without him as they challenge for major honours.

 

Arsenal's Replacements and the Importance of Depth

Despite not bringing in vast numbers of new players in the summer transfer window, Arsenal cannot be criticised for a lack of squad depth, especially in the midfield and attacking midfield areas.

Walcott generally operates from the right side of their attack, and the Gunners are well and truly stacked in that regard.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Santi Cazorla of Arsenal in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Hull City at Emirates Stadium on December 4, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky might be the obvious candidates to come in, but Jack Wilshere has also operated from wider areas this term. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a natural fit for that role too, but is still recovering himself from a long-term knee injury. Then there is precocious youngster Serge Gnabry, who has acquitted himself well to first-team action this season and looks a serious option at this stage.

All in all, Arsene Wenger won't be too concerned at not having anybody to put into that position, though in terms of like-for-like replacements, perhaps only Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gnabry offer the same direct, rapid threat in wide areas that Walcott offers.

 

Striking Questions Remain

It is in Walcott's secondary position, as a centre-forward, where Arsenal are rather more thin.

Walcott was in fact playing up front against Tottenham in the game he suffered the injury, where Arsenal have first-choice Olivier Giroud, the injured Nicklas Bendtner and the recently recovered, left-sided attacker Lukas Podolski to call upon.

WIGAN, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 22:  Lukas Podolski of Arsenal is substituted as Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal at the DW Stadium on December 22, 2012 in Wigan, England.  (Photo
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The numbers sound fine, but with Danish forward Bendtner absent (and usually misfiring) and Podolski having had his own injury issues, there is every likelihood that Wenger may now feel pressed into looking at a back-up option in January to cover for Walcott's absence.

If Podolski was to be sidelined in the next few weeks, Giroud would be the only senior centre-forward at the club.

In that regard, Walcott's injury does pose Arsenal an immediate issue to ponder and resolve.

 

World Cup Hopefuls

Moving onto the international scene, Walcott usually operates as England's right-sided player in either a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1.

Since the start of the season, though, Aaron Lennon, Raheem Sterling and, most prominently, Andros Townsend have all enjoyed call-ups to fill that role.

Townsend might appear to be the biggest candidate to take Walcott's place on the plane to Rio—but the Spurs man had lost his place at club level by mid-November, has not started a game since then and is currently out with an injury. With a new manager now in place, he has his work cut out to win his place back at club level before people get carried away with him being England's newest hope.

On present form, Sterling of Liverpool has to be the biggest shout—but as Townsend's predicament shows, there's a lot more than two months of impressive form to show to win a World Cup place.

Southampton's Adam Lallana may now fancy his chances of gatecrashing the party slightly more, while James Milner—as cover for a range of positions—will now almost certainly be on the plane, since he is so well accustomed to playing on that right flank.

For the pace that England have lost through Walcott, either of the Spurs boys could be like-minded replacements.

 

Silver Lining?

Wenger won't be much placated at having lost a big goalscoring threat for the rest of the season while his team challenges for major honours for the first time in far too long, but the truth is, he at least now has the chance to address the situation.

Had this injury happened exactly one month hence, there'd be nothing the Gunners boss could do other than absorb it and hope the rest of the squad could step up. Right now, he's got three weeks to decide if he needs to bring in another attacker, and to identify who it should be.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 01:  An injured Nicklas Bendtner of Arsenal is congratulated by team mates Theo Walcott (2L) and Nacho Monreal (R) as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Cardiff City at Emirate
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsenal, currently sitting one point clear at the top of the Premier League, do not have much room for error if they are to stay there. An attacker, even one on loan, who can contribute half a dozen goals over the remainder of the campaign could easily turn out to be the most important signing of the season.

Wenger has three weeks to decide on how to survive six months without Walcott. Lennon, Sterling, Milner and Townsend have five months to show they are worthy of his place on the plane to Brazil.

 

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