thumbnail Hello,

The Arsenal forward has been a regular under Roy Hodgson despite a middling international record but, for once, there is a promising queue of talented players to take his place

ANALYSIS
By George Ankers

For Theo Walcott, a man who surprisingly travelled but saw no game time in 2006 before being shockingly overlooked in 2010, being ruled out of World Cup 2014 with a cruciate ligament injury is a particularly cruel blow.

For England, though, it could have been a lot worse. Sod's law demands that someone's dreams of appearing at a major tournament be dashed by injury but, while there is a decision to be made on a replacement, the Arsenal forward's previous absences have already allowed for some experimentation on that subject.

The bottom line is that, despite flashes, Walcott has rarely reproduced the best of his club form at international level - which is perhaps not a huge surprise, given that consistency is not his strongest suit in the first place.

WIDE BOYS: 2013-14 LEAGUE STATS

ADAM LALLANA
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
SHOTS PER GAME
KEY PASSES PER GAME
SUCCESSFUL DRIBBLES PER GAME
28
7
5
1.9
1.8
2
JAMES MILNER
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
SHOTS PER GAME
KEY PASSES PER GAME
SUCCESSFUL DRIBBLES PER GAME
21
1
1
0.7
0.9
0.6
ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
SHOTS PER GAME
KEY PASSES PER GAME
SUCCESSFUL DRIBBLES PER GAME
8
2
1
1.1
0.4
1.4
RAHEEM STERLING
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
SHOTS PER GAME
KEY PASSES PER GAME
SUCCESSFUL DRIBBLES PER GAME
23
6
3
1.4
1.4
2.5
ANDROS TOWNSEND
GAMES PLAYED
GOALS
ASSISTS
SHOTS PER GAME
KEY PASSES PER GAME
SUCCESSFUL DRIBBLES PER GAME
18
1
0
3
1.3
3.2
The former Southampton youngster has made 36 appearances at senior level but has a relatively modest record of five goals and seven assists. Three of those goals, of course, came in his memorable fourth cap when a 19-year-old Walcott tore apart Croatia, but it took 22 more games for him to register another. He has also only completed 90 minutes in four of his 26 starts.

Despite the average return, though, improved form for the Gunners has seen him start the last six England games for which he was available, marking him out as Roy Hodgson's clear first choice on the right. Results, at least, suggest that his presence suits the Three Lions; they have only lost in normal time twice with him on the pitch.

Replacing him is therefore an important step but the abdominal problem from which he was suffering earlier in 2013-14 had at least already opened up the discussion. With Walcott unavailable for the crucial final World Cup qualifiers in the autumn, Andros Townsend was the man to step up and fire England to Brazil.

It was a gamble for Hodgson but it undeniably paid off. The Tottenham winger was at his dangerous best against Montenegro and Poland, scoring a fine debut goal and winning rave reviews.

However, ever since that magical start, Townsend has veered much closer to his anonymous worst for Spurs and has been used almost exclusively as a substitute for most of his recent outings. Were it not for Walcott's injury, in fact, his place in the national squad might be under more threat.

As it is, the shock factor has likely worn off and Hodgson would be better off taking a chance on a player with more nuance and flair.

James Milner would be the more cautious choice but, happily, this is the position in which England have the most promise begging to be tapped and three men in particular can all make strong cases: Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling.

Lallana, the Southampton captain, was one of the few players to emerge from November's defeats to Chile and Germany with any real credit. The attacking midfielder took to international football capably, showing off some of the bountiful skill and intelligence that has made him such a delight to watch this season.

The 25-year-old started in Walcott's right-flank berth against Chile and is comfortable flitting all across the forward line in any case. He offers a different proposition; where Walcott is raw and pacey, Lallana is classy and conniving.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is also pressing for a return to the England reckoning. Hodgson is obviously a big fan, having boldly picked him to start against France in their Euro 2012 opener as a teenager, and the Arsenal starlet has hit the ground running since finally returning from injury this season.

Though only 20, he offers more international experience than Lallana, having that tournament under his belt. He also demonstrated his quality with a match-winning performance against Crystal Palace in February, only four games after making his comeback.

ARSENAL LATEST
10/1 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is 10/1 with PaddyPower to score the first goal in England v Denmark
However, that performance came from central midfield, not the wing and, in any case, Oxlade-Chamberlain has typically been used on the left by Hodgson. It may be that he is in more direct competition with Danny Welbeck on the other side, especially when Lallana and Sterling have starred over longer periods this season.

Indeed, it looks as if Sterling may have the upper hand - impressive when you consider that his inclusion for the squad to face Denmark is his first since making his debut against Sweden in 2012.

His has been a remarkable run of form, though. As Liverpool make crystal clear their genuine title credibility, the Jamaican-born winger has upped his game by several degrees as he delivers on the promise that seemed to go to his head after his initial emergence.

Sterling was arguably the best player on the pitch as the Reds put in one of the greatest first-half performances in Premier League history against Arsenal in February. There, and in so many games over the past three months, he demonstrated dazzling runs, crisp and innovative passing and a cool head in front of goal.

His best attributes are those for which Walcott is regularly selected and he has been more effective in delivering those skills than the Gunners star. Where Walcott has averaged only 0.7 successful dribbles per game in the Premier League this season, Sterling is running at 2.5 - more, too, than the crafty Lallana (2). For the most direct possible replacement, the Liverpool tyro fits the bill.

Lallana is closer to being the finished article than Sterling but both have the form to warrant a chance - indeed, given Welbeck's comparative struggles of late, their cases are strong enough that Hodgson might well just pick both. Walcott deserves sympathy but, in a pleasant surprise, England have genuine reason to be excited about their options.

Follow George Ankers on

Related

From the web