Arsenal were anxiously awaiting news on two fronts on Monday over Theo Walcott, firstly to see if he would be banned for the gesture offered to Spurs fans and, perhaps more importantly, and update on his injury situation.
Whilst being stretchered off he did not carry the anguished look of a player with a serious injury, and while he escaped FA sanctions for his behaviour, he most definitely could not escape the onset of the crushing news concerning his knee.
It is devastating for Walcott, who is really coming into his stride age 24 and thought that the 2014 World Cup in Brazil would be his first real chance to shine on football’s finest stage.
While he suffers the most, his injury has afforded Wenger a huge problem on the back of Arsenal’s title resurgence.
Having just returned from injury, Walcott appeared to be returning to his best form with five goals in six matches. His resurgence gave Wenger the confidence to rest his valuable match-winners in Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud while still managing to iron out results.
It is also worth mentioning that Walcott’s sheer pace and trickery, his willingness to hang off the last man complements Özil’s perfect touch, pure vision and great imagination.
Özil functions best when there are out-and-out wingers beside him, who he can thread inch-perfect passes into; Walcott thrives on that supply. For a winger he is extremely clinical, scoring 21 goals in all competitions last season.
Nonetheless, Walcott was injured for three months between September and November, yet Arsenal were still able to climb to the top of the table among injuries to many first-team players.
Combined with the injuries to Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal lacked a pure winger however they still managed to cope playing a narrower 4-2-3-1 formation, with both Ramsey and Giroud providing a decent goal return.
It will be interesting to see how Wenger reacts to this situation, if he will bring in another winger to cover for Walcott. This may be unlikely, given Wenger’s relative prudence when delving into the transfer market.
The imminent return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will also further fuel his reluctance, as well as the flexibility of players such as Özil, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky to play in that wide midfielder’s role.
Wenger would also point to his team’s performance without the presence of Walcott, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain, so a January deal for another winger would be unlikely. To his credit Wenger coped with their loss more than adequately, inspiring Arsenal to the top of the Premier League
However one thing is certain. Walcott’s injury is a big loss for Arsenal and they will miss him and his prowess on the pitch sorely.
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