‘Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, unfortunately you’ve not been selected Theo, happy birthday to you…’
Theo Walcott's 28th birthday celebrations would have taken a slight mood change on Thursday when it was announced that the Arsenal forward wasn't included in Gareth Southgate's 26-man squad. Walcott would have been one of several players quietly confident of receiving a call-up having scored 17 goals in all competitions this season - the most out of anyone in the current England senior team. He's also a regular in the Gunners starting line-up alongside Alexis Sanchez and one of the first names on Arsene Wenger's teamsheet.
Walcott will almost certainly be dismayed and somewhat discouraged from the fact that he is his country’s form player, yet he won’t be involved in the upcoming friendly match against Germany in Dortmund or the World Cup qualifier against Lithuania at Wembley. The decision has been described as a "tough call" by Southgate, who says he wanted to "have a look at a couple of others", most notably Southampton forward Nathan Redmond and Manchester United youngster Marcus Rashford.
"I think Theo has a really valid claim for being included," Southgate admitted.
"He has scored a lot of goals for his club. He has obviously played a lot with England.
"I didn't see him featuring in the games this week so in terms of having him in the longer squad, I wanted to look at one or two other players I don't as much about.
"That is a really tough call on him and one I don't expect him to be chuffed to bits about but, as I say, I wanted to look at a couple of others.
"He is still very much in our thinking. If he keeps playing well for his club there is no reason he can't force his way back in as Michail Antonio and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have done this time."
It’s not the first time Walcott has been overlooked by his country. The England man missed out on Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad after struggling for form following his return from a calf injury in December, scoring just five goals in 28 appearances during that period. While his omission from the Euros was clearly justified, the same can’t be said this time where he has scored 17 goals in 29 appearances, providing consistency in Arsenal’s dynamic attack throughout the campaign.
Jermain Defoe's inclusion cannot be questioned. The Sunderland man plays for the worst form side in the league yet has managed to score 14 goals this season but question marks do remain over a raw youngster like Rashford who may be better suited to under-21 football as he continues his development. Redmond's unquestionable technical qualities and versatility have seen him rewarded with a place in the squad but there will again be a huge debate over whether the Southampton man has performed as well as Walcott this season.
With the likes of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge all ruled out of the latest squad through injury, there would have been no better time for Walcott to link up with his Arsenal team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on international duty and represent his country. Both players have impressed for the Gunners in recent games despite a slump in form over the month of February and it's a credit to Oxlade-Chamberlain that he has managed to force his way back into international reckoning after being omitted from previous squads.
Walcott meanwhile, will still be confident of going to the 2018 World Cup even if he's bemused by Southgate's decision today. Today's announcement would have put a dampener on the versatile forward's birthday celebrations but he has always managed to come back from disappointments in the past - and this time will certainly be no different.
England squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Southampton), Joe Hart (Torino, on loan from Man City), Tom Heaton (Burnley).
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Man Utd), Michael Keane (Burnley), Luke Shaw (Man Utd), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), John Stones (Man City), Kyle Walker (Tottenham).
Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Michail Antonio (West Ham), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Man Utd), Jake Livermore (West Brom), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Nathan Redmond (Southampton), Raheem Sterling (Man City), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton).
Strikers: Jermain Defoe (Sunderland), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Jamie Vardy (Leicester).