ENGLAND and Arsenal’s ambitions for 2014 suffered hammer blows last night when Theo Walcott was ruled out for six months – including this summer’s World Cup – with a serious knee injury.
Tests revealed that the versatile forward suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in an innocuous looking incident during the Gunners’ 2-0 FA Cup win over Tottenham on Saturday.
Walcott, who had scored five goals in six games following his return from an abdominal injury, had initially been expected to miss only four weeks. Instead the 24-year-old is set to undergo surgery for the second time this season, meaning he will miss Premier League leaders Arsenal’s challenge for a first top-flight title in
10 years and England’s World Cup campaign in Brazil.
The shock setback will increase pressure on Gunners manager Arsene Wenger to sign attacking reinforcements during the January transfer window.
Walcott was a near-certainty for a place in England boss Roy Hodgson’s squad for the World Cup. The national team is not short of replacements on the right wing, with Tottenham’s Andros Townsend shining in Walcott’s absence earlier this term and Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling an emerging talent. Yet it is a blow to England’s hopes of progressing from a tough group that also includes South American champions Uruguay, four-time winners Italy and Costa Rica. At club level, Walcott’s absence could mean further first-team opportunities for teenager Serge Gnabry, who impressed against Tottenham, while fellow Southampton academy product Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is close to a return from injury and has operated on both flanks for Arsenal and England.
Wenger is already without injured striker Nicklas Bendtner for a month and, though over an illness that ruled him out of the weekend, regular centre forward Olivier Giroud has begun to look jaded. The manager has money to spend but has played down his hopes of signing in January.
Earlier yesterday Walcott was spared disciplinary action from the Football Association, which merely reminded him of his responsibilities after he gestured the score to Spurs fans during Saturday’s third-round clash. The FA has also sought information from both clubs with a view to banning fans who appeared to throw objects onto the pitch during the game.
WORLD CUP WOE
■ 2006: Walcott, 17, picked for finals by Sven-Goran Eriksson despite still awaiting Arsenal debut. Didn’t play
■ 2010: Controversially overlooked by Fabio Capello for tournament in South Africa, where England exited at last 16
■ 2014: World Cup debut must wait again after Walcott ruled out of Brazil finals with serious knee injury