Every Arsenal player in the away dressing room at Old Trafford would have celebrated wildly following Monday night’s surprise 2-1 win over Manchester United, with the probable exception of Theo Walcott.
That’s because something bizarre happened in the second half of the match. The England international was stripped off ready to come on - presumably at the instruction of his manager, Arsene Wenger - before being told to sit back down moments later.
Aaron Ramsey went on instead for the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain - hardly a like-for-like replacement - as Walcott watched the rest of the match from the subs’ bench.
Embarrassing incident for Walcott
Wenger may have experienced a sudden change of heart, but it was all a little embarrassing for the 25-year-old, who has featured sporadically for the Gunners since returning from the anterior cruciate ligament injury which kept him out of action for a year.
It was always going to take a little bit of time for Walcott to rediscover his best form, but he has proven since January that he hasn’t lost his explosive pace or his ability to finish.
Walcott is too good for the bench
So why, then, has he been an unused substitute in four of Arsenal’s previous five fixtures?
Full-backs are famously terrified of pace and there are few - if any - players in the Premier League quicker than Walcott, whose end product has also come on in leaps and bounds over recent years.
He used to make the wrong decisions on a worryingly regular basis, but that’s no longer the case. In the 2012-13 campaign he scored 14 goals and provided 13 assists in the Premier League alone, and there’s no reason why he can’t produce these exceptional numbers year-in, year-out if he stays clear of injury.
Walcott has scored two Premier League goals since returning from his lengthy injury lay-off - against Aston Villa and Leicester City - and must be chomping at the bit for a regular run of games.
Tough for Wenger - so many options
In truth, it has been difficult for Wenger to accommodate Walcott. Contrary to the belief of some, he is not - and never has been - a centre-forward, which means - unlike Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez - he can’t put pressure on Olivier Giroud for the role of striker. It seems this is an experiment Wenger has finally pulled the plug on.
Then in his natural position, out on the right flank, he finds himself competing against the likes of Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain, while Mesut Ozil has also been stationed out there on occasions too.
Walcott, whose contract expires in the summer of 2016, knows he is in a very good position to negotiate a move away from the Emirates Stadium if he decides to leave the club.
Crucial few months coming up
Wenger must want to convince Walcott against reaching that decision. but in order to make that happen he’ll need to start playing him between now and the end of the season.
Plenty of top clubs would be keen to secure his services because of his extraordinary pace combined with his knack of racking up the numbers in terms of goals and assists.
And if Wenger continues to waste Walcott’s time by keeping him on the bench, this is one star player Arsenal fans would have no justifiable reason to hold a grudge against if he decided to quit the club this summer.
Arsenal fans: is there a place for Walcott in your strongest starting line-up? Would you blame him if he left the Gunners this summer? Have your say in the comments below!