By Liam Twomey
As Theo Walcott sat upright on a stretcher, smilingly holding up two fingers to the Tottenham fans hurling abuse his way, there was little to indicate the devastating significance of the moment.
Arsenal were beating their bitter north London rivals comfortably, their winger did not carry the anguished and agonised look of a man who had sustained a serious injury, and any controversy caused by his ‘provocation’ was swiftly put to rest by the Football Association’s announcement on Monday that they would impose no sanction.
Yet by the time their decision was made public, Walcott was already facing up to a far more serious personal revelation. Even with the wonders of modern surgery and physiotherapy, a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament still means no professional football for at least six months. That means no further part to play in Arsenal’s most earnest Premier League title charge since Cesc Fabregas left the club in the summer of 2011, and no World Cup in Brazil.
|WALCOTT OUT FOR SIX MONTHS
|England winger set to miss World Cup after suffering cruciate injury in win over Tottenham
Walcott’s goals helped his team bounce back from three damaging results against Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea to ensure they ushered in 2014 as Premier League leaders. He was emerging as a leader too, a lone beacon of defiance in humiliation at the Etihad Stadium and jet-heeled catalyst for a stirring comeback against West Ham.
His resurgence gave Wenger the confidence to afford the jaded likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud an opportunity to escape the red zone, and perhaps their breather – combined with the slated return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – will ensure his own absence is less keenly felt between now and the summer.
It may well be little comfort to Walcott but, if Arsenal do go on to win their first Premier League title since 2004, he should take solace in the knowledge that his contribution was no less crucial for its brevity.
Roy Hodgson has no such consolation. Walcott was not key to England’s qualification for Brazil but with Andros Townsend suffering the inevitable Tottenham comedown from his heroics against Montenegro and Poland, the right flank once again looks worryingly vacant.
Frantic prayers will surely be directed towards the continued health and form of Aaron Lennon and Raheem Sterling if the Three Lions are to harbour genuine hopes of mounting successful lightning strikes in varying heat and humidity against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica.
Yet it is Walcott who suffers most. Taken on a fool’s errand to Germany as a wide-eyed 17-year-old by Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2006 and omitted by Fabio Capello after a poor run of form in 2010, the abiding sense was that, at 24, he was a man finally ready to seize his chance. "It was a great experience going there to play a friendly last summer, and I want more of it," he told reporters when asked about going to Brazil last month.
Fortune has dashed Walcott’s dream. His summer will be no disaster - he and his wife are expecting their first child, possibly during the tournament - but he will not be able to celebrate fatherhood with World Cup heroics. The coming months will be tough on his mind as well as his body.