It’s now April, 2010 – the World Cup and business end of the Premier League season both approach like a swarm of angry bees looking to sting before they’re stung. Injuries are piling up in England to key members of the national team as well as key components of the three headed monster that is the title race – race for fourth not excluded.
Wayne Rooney, Aaron Lennon, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, and Wayne Bridge are all currently sidelined, while Jermaine Defoe, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and others have either just returned to action or are just recently finding their best form.
Fabio Capello will lament the insanity of the Premier League schedule especially when the majority of his first team have also been involved in the Champions League or the race for next years competition. Fixtures, more specifically, the intensity of fixtures will pile up like your end of the week laundry while a nation holds their collective breath for June to arrive before anymore players succumb to injury.
In all of Capello’s worry and dread, which, let’s face it, is probably reserved for one player, he is in his own right a master tactician. Capello has been able to get the best out of a current crop of England players who failed to even qualify for the last major tournament, Euro 2008. Capello has turned McClaren’s abject failure into a potential World Cup semi final team, and if a little luck goes England’s way, maybe even the World Cup trophy itself.
Rooney, baring any additional unforeseen events, will lead England this summer. Capello never would have admitted to relying on one single player because he’s better than that. Realistically, it must be said that Wayne Rooney is seemingly irreplaceable in his own unique way. However, I believe there’s a player that can and will make a difference for the three lions if given the chance.
In his own right, one Theo James Walcott seems to be hitting the right form at the right time for his club which could give him the chance to prove his worth for country. His display against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarter final last Wednesday was an inspired reminder of what a dangerous player he can be when fit and at his best.
Just as Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard did in the Champions League final in 2005, Walcott placed Arsenal upon his shoulders and led them bravely mid way through the second half of the Champions League tie when he scored Arsenal’s first goal en route to a famous draw. His blistering runs down the right side of midfield will give Barcelona’s Maxwell something to think about in the likely event they meet again in the return leg.
As Walcott proved last week, his pace and direct running with the ball can easily change a game in England’s or Arsenal’s favor. He’s proved he needs to be on that plane to South Africa with his performance on Wednesday and (although many have forgotten) his brilliant hat trick in Croatia last year.
On the other hand, Walcott has yet to prove whether or not he can be as effective for a full 90 minutes or for an entire season. A two month sprint til the end of the season or a month long tournament this summer may just be what Walcott needs to prove wrong his detractors.
With injuries piling up at the North London club as well as for England, Arsene Wenger will smile favorably upon Walcott’s recent form and fitness which has plagued him so much in his young career. The major question for young Theo really has always been fitness and whether or not he can avoid injury. In his time at Arsenal, Walcott has dealt with numerous injuries including a hamstring problem, knee knock and shoulder surgery.
As fantastic as Walcott was against Barcelona, so too has his season also been a slight disappointment. Walcott has only started back to back games for Arsenal once this season as he’s struggled with injury on and off all year. His appearances, which have produced 3 total goals for Arsenal, have been followed with mixed results from journalists and critics in the English media who so desperately want Walcott to perform at the best of his ability. One harsh critic of Walcott even went so far as to say “he lacks a football brain”.
First things first, Walcott will need to continue his effectiveness in attack for his club while maintaining his match fitness. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he’ll look to use his pace, dribbling skills and crossing abilities to good effect in order to ensure he’ll play for England at the World Cup.
Whether or not he can do enough to warrant a spot in Capello’s starting eleven is yet to be seen. Out on the right, with David Beckham officially out of the picture, Walcott will face competition from Aaron Lennon (if fit), Shaun Wright-Phillips (goal scorer in England’s last match v Egypt), James Milner (probably preferred on the left), and possibly even the in-form Adam Johnson. If Walcott can build upon the performance he displayed in the Barcelona match, Capello will have no choice but to include him in his first choice team sheet.
As far as Arsenal is concerned, Wenger, unlike Capello, will have no choice but to immediately call upon the services of the pacy winger as a major injury crisis has struck the London side. Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Andrei Arshavin are all long term absentees. As they’ve lost some key players at the wrong time of the season, equally, Arsenal seem to have grown up this year. They’ve displayed a “fight-back”, gritty quality over the past few months that’s ultimately been an important characteristic they’ve lacked in years past.
In Saturday’s 1-0 home clash with Wolves, Walcott was the epitome of hot and cold. Arsenal used the right side of midfield to stretch Wolves defensive back line more times than I could count. On the day, Waloctt provided a handful of good crosses into the box, but for every relevant chance he produced, he was equally as wasteful.
Is Theo Walcott the answer for Arsenal and England? Time will tell, but ultimately, the answer to that question may not be as cut and dry as a simple yes or no. One thing’s for certain, if Theo can reproduce the form he’s displayed recently, his involvement for club and country will be cherished and England fans will be seeing Mr. Walcott for years to come.