Arsenal star turns attentions to Euro 2012 and a big decision
Theo Walcott will not play for the Gunners again this season, but is set for a busy summer on and off the pitch
Theo Walcott looks to have played his last game for Arsenal this season after limping out of Saturday’s match – but he will be hoping it is not his last game until next season.
The player who has divided opinion among Arsenal fans over the past few seasons like no other has enjoyed an overall impressive campaign, and one that looks set to see him selected in England’s 23-man squad for this summer’s European Championships, whoever ends up selecting it.
Two years ago Walcott suffered arguably the biggest disappointment of his career when Fabio Capello omitted him from his final party for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Capello has now gone, but if the Italian was still holding the reins he would certainly have included Walcott this time around, and whether it is Stuart Pearce, Harry Redknapp or somebody else picking the squad next month the 23-year-old will surely not miss out again.
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Saturday’s draw with Chelsea was Walcott’s 32nd league start out of 35 games, and his 43rd in total in a campaign which has seen him score 11 times and also provide countless assists, 12 for Robin van Persie alone.
Statistics only go so far, and there have been times when the former Southampton starlet has frustrated as so often in the past, but the signs of improvement from last season and that disastrous 2009-10 campaign are clear.
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Certainly Wenger expects his player to be present in Poland and Ukraine this summer, and said that Saturday’s hamstring injury should not be a factor in being ready to play in England’s opening game against France in Donetsk on June 11.
“He should be OK for England. I don’t think he’ll be ready to play for us,” said the Arsenal manager, who was clearly annoyed that Walcott had played on despite feeling the injury a few minutes earlier.
“He wanted to stay on the pitch and carry on but I felt he should have moved off straight away,” added Wenger.
“The second time it was a real problem. It looks a serious hamstring. Now it will be tough to return before the end of the season.”
That is a disappointing end for, much like Van Persie, this has been the first time Walcott has remained injury-free for the bulk of a season. The rewards have been tangible.
His stunning solo goal in the 5-3 win at Chelsea in October was eclipsed by Van Persie’s hat-trick, but it was Walcott’s double strike in the 5-2 trouncing of Spurs in February that turned his season around.
When Arsenal trailed 2-0 in that game, the vitriol poured down from the Emirates stands and the vast majority of it was aimed at Walcott. Six years after his arrival as a callow teenager from Southampton, Arsenal supporters’ patience was at breaking point as they waited for the boy wonder to fulfil his potential.
But scoring the fourth and fifth goals against an overrun Tottenham changed all that. His personal renaissance was mirrored by Arsenal in the ensuing two months as nine wins from 11 games propelled the Gunners back up to third place. Now Walcott will hope his own upturn in form can continue into the summer.
The question of who is the England manager should not be a determining factor, Walcott played under Pearce for the Under-21s and under Redknapp at Southampton.
Walcott has done enough to be included in his first squad for a major tournament since Sven Goran Eriksson’s misguided decision to take him to the World Cup in Germany as a 17-year-old in 2006.
Now 23, Walcott has matured as a player but is still far from the finished article. However, with Wayne Rooney’s suspension for the opening two games likely to hit England hard, Walcott could be in line for a leading role on the right flank.
Ashley Young, Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson are all competing for the same position, but Walcott’s pace is a weapon England are hoping to use to full effect this summer.
However, after his experience two years ago, Walcott will initially be happy enough to just recover from injury in time, and then make sure he is on the plane to Krakow.
And there is a silver lining to his latest injury blow, namely that it gives him plenty of time to make up his mind over the new contract Arsenal are offering him.
Similarly to Van Persie, Walcott’s current deal expires in 2013 and he has not yet extended it. This could prove to be a pivotal summer for Walcott in more ways than one.