Saturday 21 October 2017

Wenger steps up striker hunt after Walcott agony

Theo Walcott of Arsenal is tackled by Vlad Chiriches of Spurs during the FA Cup third round match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur
Theo Walcott of Arsenal is tackled by Vlad Chiriches of Spurs during the FA Cup third round match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur
Arsenal’s Theo Walcott lies injured on the Emirates pitch

Jeremy Wilson and Matt Law

Theo Walcott suffered World Cup heartbreak when he was ruled out until next season with a ruptured cruciate knee ligament.

In a hammer blow both to England and Arsenal, Walcott was told he will need surgery to his left knee after a scan in London revealed the full extent of the injury he suffered in Saturday's derby against Tottenham.

Walcott, his family and even Arsenal's medical team were shocked by the results of the scan as the severity of the damage was not immediately obvious when he jarred his leg while challenging for the ball. Arsene Wenger had hoped that it was nothing more severe than "a kick" and was encouraged by Walcott smiling and offering a '2-0' gesture to the Tottenham fans as he sat up on a stretcher while being carried off.

Walcott had also felt little pain on Saturday night but awoke to a feeling that his knee had frozen on Sunday morning. Even then, it was only feared that Walcott had strained his ligaments but yesterday's scan delivered the grim news.

Wenger was apparently among the first on the phone to console Walcott and it has already been accepted by both the FA and the player that he has no chance of being fit for the World Cup.

The plan is for Walcott to have surgery in London over the next fortnight -- and depending on the swelling by the end of the week -- before beginning a programme of rehabilitation.

Should that go well, he will be back running in June and then hopefully be able to follow a pre-season programme with Arsenal in July.

At this early stage, it would be regarded as a positive recovery if he is back playing first-team football for Arsenal by the start of next season.

"We are so upset for him but he will come back stronger," said Walcott's father Don. Walcott's injury has considerable short and long-term implications for both club and country.

For England, it is the first major loss for manager Roy Hodgson and continues Walcott's terrible luck with injuries and personal bad fortune in World Cups. He was selected by Sven-Goran Eriksson at the age of just 17 in the England squad in 2006 but did not play a single match. He was then dropped completely by Fabio Capello just before the 2010 World Cup despite being one of the star players during qualification.

Walcott, who was once the most expensive 16-year-old in football history, will now be 29 by the time of his chance to make a World Cup debut.

It means Tottenham's Andros Townsend, Aaron Lennon and perhaps Walcott's fellow Gunner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are likely to be competing to start as Hodgson's right-sided forward for England during the summer.

For Arsenal, the need to sign another striker has also further intensified and the absence of Walcott represents a significant set-back to their chances of maintaining a challenge to win the Premier League.

OPTION

Walcott scored 21 goals last season and has emerged as a legitimate option to Olivier Giroud as Arsenal's main central striker. With Nicolas Bendtner also injured, Wenger had already been actively exploring the January market for strikers but knows it will be extremely difficult to add a player this month.

Arsenal would like to sign Alvaro Morata on loan but Real Madrid are opposed to any deal. Another option is Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa but that would also be a very difficult deal to complete in January.

One boost yesterday for both England and Arsenal was the return to full training of Oxlade-Chamberlain ahead of a possible appearance for the U-21s on Thursday. Oxlade-Chamberlain has not played since suffering a knee injury on the opening day of the season more than four months ago but is now targeting a first-team comeback later this month. He is regarded by Wenger as a potential replacement to Walcott on the right of Arsenal's midfield, although Serge Gnabry's emergence does also provide another option.

Given the length of his absence, it is likely Oxlade-Chamberlain will play several matches for Arsenal's U-21s before returning to Premier League football.

It means Gnabry is now most likely to be given an extended opportunity in the first-team. The 18-year-old was impressive against Tottenham on Saturday and says he has benefited from training with Walcott.

"I have learned a lot from Theo -- we both are intelligent players," said Gnabry.

Thomas Vermaelen also had a scan yesterday on his knee and, although he is unlikely to be available against Aston Villa next Monday, should return within two weeks. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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