If Arsene Wenger was devastated by the news of Theo Walcott’s injury, England manager Roy Hodgson wouldn’t have smiled either, for the Arsenal man’s absence leaves a gaping hole in the England squad ahead of this summer’s World Cup.
Furthermore, while Wenger still has 25 days to draft in a replacement for the 24-year-old, Hodgson can’t afford to splash money on a like-for-like replacement and will, instead, spend the next five months weighing up a list of possible replacements.
If there’s one thing English football isn’t lacking is diminutive, speedy, wingers but who will go to Brazil as replacement for Walcott? Here’s five names that Hodgson could choose from.
1) Andros Townsend
The Spurs man was a nation’s hero in October, when his performances against Poland and Montenegro played a huge role in helping England to secure qualification for the World Cup, but he has failed to nail down a regular starting spot at Spurs.
Townsend has emerged as a rather mono-dimensional player, his insistence to cut onto his left foot, which allows opponents to force him out wide to minimise the threat, is something he’s to work on but he offers the same pace as Walcott.
Townsend can’t play up-front as Walcott has done for Arsenal this season and would have probably gone to the World Cup regardless of the Arsenal man’s injury, which means Hodgson will probably have to look elsewhere for replacements.
2) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Having missed the first half the season with a knee injury, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s tale could be the opposite of Walcott’s, for the 20-year-old has just over four months to prove Hodgson that he’s worth of a World Cup call.
The Ox needs to get games under his belt, but with Walcott’s injury likely to present him with the chance of an extended run in the squad, his pace and strength could well prove tempting for the England manager.
Last season Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice and assisted as many in five games for England and his familiarity with the environment could make put him ahead of others in the pecking order.
3) Aaron Lennon
The Spurs winger remains something of a mystery. As quick as Walcott and capable to beat any left-back on his day, Lennon doesn’t offer the same goal return as Walcott and, at times, tends to drift on the margin of a match.
Compared to other potential replacements, however, Lennon has experience on his side, for the Spurs man started England’s first two games at the 2010 World Cup, but he hasn’t played for England for almost a year now.
Lennon remains a crucial figure in Tim Sherwood’s plans and should he perform consistently in the second half of the season he could force his way into the England squad.
4) Raheem Sterling
Sterling has enjoyed an excellent start to the season, another Liverpool player to benefit from Brendan Rodgers’s attacking philosophy, and his three goals and three assists in 15 Premier League games tell the tale of a player showing signs of maturity.
Of the players in this list, the Liverpool striker is arguably the one whose characteristics are closer to Walcott’s, for Sterling can play through the middle as well as on the right in a three-pronged attack, while his blistering pace makes him a difficult customer.
On the other hand, while he might have improved enough to become a starter in the Premier League, Sterling might not yet have what it takes to do it on the biggest stage of them all.
5) Wilfried Zaha
Upon his arrival at Old Trafford, few would have bet against Zaha not making the World Cup, but his first six months at Manchester United have been an abysmal failure, with the former Palace man struggling to get into the squad, let alone the starting XI.
The qualities are there for all to see, though, and should Zaha go on loan in January, expect him to force his way back into the England fold.
Whether Roy Hodgson would take a gamble on him, remains to be seen but, at the moment, Zaha’s best chances of making the World Cup depend on him getting regular first team football and he can only do that away from Manchester United.