Category Archives: Theo Walcott

One league where we’re comfortably top of the table…

Can the injury-tally grow any more? With news that Jack Wilshere will now be out for at least six weeks, we may set a record for player-games missed to injury. It certainly looks as if we’ll finish the season with the most games missed, and that was before Wilshere went down. After 29 matches, we’re top of the table in the Injury League with 219 player-games missed. The gap between us and second place is immense—Man U lags behind at 156 player-games missed. It’s a cruel irony then that a team already as deep as Chelsea is near the bottom of the table with only 81; only Southampton (76) and Cardiff (51) have missed fewer. What kind of world do we live in in which a team like Stoke, notorious for inflicting grievous harm on other players, has only missed 86 games? It’s a cold, cruel world indeed, and it seems as if the dark forces of the universe are arrayed against us. Dodgy refereeing. Ludicrous draws in various cup competitions. Injury after injury after injury. Hang it all, I say.

Of course, we’ve swollen our numbers a bit with the likes of Abou Diaby, Yaya Sanogo, and a few other long-termers, of course, but the pervasiveness of injuries on its own would probably be enough to keep us in the top four. Aside from a few stalwarts, it’s hard to find a position that hasn’t been affected by injuries. Center-back, for one, has been blessedly injury-free—assuming that the issue that kept Kos out of France’s friendly dissipates soon. Keeper, not bad. Forward, ironically, has been limited almost in spite of injury as Giroud heroically and stoically plodded along without rest or injury while waiting for Sanogo and Bendtner to heal up and get fit. The midfield, of course, has been decimated. Diaby. Walcott. Podolski. Ox. Ramsey. Wilshere. The list goes on.

It frustrates me to no end. I’m not referring to questions like “is it the trainer’s fault?” or “doesn’t this prove that we need more rotation?” or “why didn’t we sign more players”? or “why the hell do friendlies exist?” It’s more to the point to ask why such matches are called friendlies when a player can go in as recklessly as Agger did on Wilshere. Crappy first touch, Danny-boy. Don’t make matters worse with a sloppy tackle. Moron. Breathing new life into the term oxymoron—is it a “friendly” fracture that Jack suffered? Or is it a case of “can’t beat ’em, maim ’em?”

Back to the frustration to which I alluded. I’m just as guilty of the following feeling as anyone else—learning of Wilshere’s injury has thrown Gooners into a tailspin, convincing us that there is in fact a conspiracy (something I poked fun at here) to keep Arsenal from winning anything this year. Finding out that Wilshere is all but done for the season—because why bother playing him in the last four or five matches even if he is ruled fit to play?—has somehow proven that the conspiracy is real, and Hodgson and Agger are either in on it or unwitting pawns in a larger chess-match. From what I can tell of ol’ Roy, I suspect the latter.

Instead of ruing the hand we’ve been dealt, though, I hope the lads look ’round the locker room, size each other up, and realize that the run-in depends on them and them alone. There will be no help from referees or doctors, no mercy shown by Bayern or Chelsea or Liverpool (Agger, I’m looking squarely at you). Shorn of Wilshere, Walcott, and Diaby for the rest of the season, but looking to the returns of Kos and Monreal by Saturday, and the returns of Ramsey and Källström, it’s high-time to resurrect the spirit that was such a part of the early season. Fueled by success, this squad drew strength from each member and became something greater than the sum of its parts. Despite the limitations, exacerbated by the injuries, we found a way through the UCL Group of Death and to the top of the Prem. Seeing teammates fall need not erode that spirit. Each time, after all, someone else has risen to the call, whether it’s been scoring goals, filling in at unfamiliar positions, or doing the dirty work so that someone else gets the highlight-reel moment, we’ve seen this squad dig in and rally against the odds before.

It would be easy to interpret Wilshere’s injury as a nail in a coffin, or a window of opportunity slamming shut. We’ve already been written off in the Champions League and Prem, but that just means we can play like a team with nothing to lose. Pressure’s off, as few expected us to succeed in the fixtures to come even at full-strength. Wilshere may have been struggling for form in recent weeks, and and his injury may be a blessing in disguise, but the symbolism of his injury is open to interpretation. The early returns focus on how this proves that we don’t have what it takes. My take on the matter is that it will reveal a depth of resiliency, pride, and resolve in the rest of the squad, even to invigorate rather than enervate, and that those who take up the banner that Wilshere can no longer wave, save from the sidelines, will show the doubters that there’s fight in this squad still. They’ll assume that we’re teetering and on the ropes, but it’s just the set-up for the ol’ rope-a-dope. We’ve taken some blows and look to be on our last feet, but that’s the prelude to us fighting back and landing a few knock-out blows instead.

First up, Everton.

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Will One of the Arsenal Boys Become England’s Top Scorer at the World Cup?

Mary Mitchell, a guest-writer for the week who brings wide-ranging experience in online journalism. She is a freelance editor and writes for national and international websites and returns with a guest-post that looks ahead to Brazil 2014. Today, she has a closer look at Arsenal’s British core—who among our squad might lead the Three Lions in scoring?

Brazil’s 2014 World Cup is approaching, and Arsenal will certainly be one of the most-represented clubs in the England team. With old-guard players such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney aging and the Three Lions in need of changing the starting eleven in a competition like the World Cup, there might be many Arsenal young players ready to step up and earn a place on the pitch.

Jack Wilshere’s high-skilled talent will be a dangerous weapon in England’s midfield, as it has been in the Arsenal’s as well, where he has scored three goals this year, and thus improving his earlier results. He’s definitely making his way to the top spots of the English football ranking.

Kieran Gibbs is one of the most impressive young defenders in the world, and due to his past as a midfielder he has the capability of performing outstanding attacks, so he might reveal himself to be very useful in the offensive schemes. He’s an undisputed player in the Arsenal defense, and he’s aiming at becoming one in the England national team as well.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, also known as the Ox, is talented, young, and has already collected 13 cups with the England team, scoring 3 beautiful goals during that time. He’s fast and confident with the ball, plus he already has a good international experience, so if you want to bet on an outsider instead of Wayne Rooney, he’s your man.

Unfortunately, Theo Walcottwon’t take part in the competition because of his cruciate ligament injury. With his devastating, high-speed skills, he might have been a star in the team and definitely one of the most awaited men. Manager Roy Hodgson will be hard-pressed to replace his pace up-front.

Anyway, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are young and definitely deserving special consideration, and each will try to make up for Walcott’s absence.

England may not be one of the favorites to win the world cup, but we can still bet for one of our Arsenal boys to become England’s top scorer at the championship. At the time, there are other countries that seem to have better odds of winning in this 2014 world cup edition: Brazil is playing at home and has some of the best players in the world, such as Neymar da Silva, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, and Hulk. Argentina can count on the incredible talent of Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín, who have placed the team as a top candidate to win the championship; Spain is more than willing to defend its title won at the past World Cup edition in South Africa, and, not to be outdone, Germany has built a solid and well-playing team composed by many players from the Champions League winners, Bayern Munich. 

 However, our boys are getting ready to enter the most important football championship today, waiting for their moment to shine and demonstrate the world what the English national team is capable of.
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Thierry sits down with Theo, Ox, and Gnabry [fiction]

     “Serge, Theo, Alex, thank you for meeting me here.”
     “Any time, Mr. Henry!”
     “Easy, Alex, you can call me Thierry.”
     “I already do!”
     “Yes, yes, Theo, I know. We share a jersey number as well. This is all very good. But listen. We need to talk, and this is why I have brought the three of you here.”
     “Where are we sir?”
     “Serge, I’m glad you asked. I—”
     “Dude! Serge! He called you Serge! You’re already, like buddies!”
     “Hm? Ah, yes, Alex, we are all friends here. I may have started at Arsenal before any of you were even shaving your chins, but we are all Gunners. This is why we must talk.”
     “What about, sir?”  
     “Pffffft! ‘sir’? Serge, you muppet, he just said we’re friends. I call him Thierry, you call him Thierry.”
     “Easy, Theo. He is younger than you; Unlike you and Alex, he and I have never been on the pitch together. It is perhaps natural for him in this moment to be more courteous, is it not?”
     “I guess.”
     “Good enough. As I say, we are all friends here, and I believe that part of this comes from the love we feel for this club, does it not?”
     “Yes, sir!—I mean, Thierry!”
     “Hm? Oh, yes! Sorry.”
     “This is okay. I want to speak to each of you in turn, but the others must listen, for what I say matters to you all in different ways.”
     “Got it.”
     “Serge, I will start with you because you are the youngest and newest of the three to play for Arsenal. Calm down, Serge. Exhale.”
     “I’m sorry sir—er, Thierry—it’s just that, well, you’re him. Thierry Henry. You’re a legend around these parts, and I—”
     “No, this is not how to think of it. I am like you, a man who loves football and wants to do his best for his club. Is this not true?”
     “Oh, yes!”
     “Very good. Now, you are 18, is it?”
     “And a half!”
     “Yes. Here is what I want you to remember. People are saying many thing good and great things about you. They are saying you could be the next this, the next that. Have you heard these things?”
     “Yes, of course. But I know it is just talk.”
     “Good. Do not listen. The best way to become good, which is necessary before achieving greatness, is to ignore what they are saying—do not think about rumors, do not think about the other players they compare you to. These are traps. When I came to Arsenal, I struggled, and they said I wasn’t good enough for the Premier League. If I listened, I might have believed. Then, when I proved them wrong, the same people, they said I was the best to ever play. If I believed them, I would have lost my focus, my passion. I would have believed that I was already great. Do you understand?”
     “Yes, but it is hard. I want feedback, support, advice, yes, even criticism. I want—”
     “It is for these things that you must go to Arsène.”
     “You mean Mr. Weng—oh. Yes. Arsène. Thank you, Thierry.”
     “You will thank me through how you play. Show me that you have listened. You may go. Alex? Alex, where are you?”
     “Here! Here I am, T!”
     “Um, yes, very good. Alex, stay calm. How long have you been with Arsenal?”
     “Two years, five months, three days, 13—”
     “Okay, okay, settle down, now. Your passion for the club is clear. However, you must understand how to balance this passion, this panache, with also élan. Do you follow?”
     “No. What do you mean?”
     “It is one thing to charge in aggressively. I have seen how well you change pace, how you cut inside and go at and blow past defenders. But there is more.”
     “What? What more? Tell me!”
     “Yes. You must learn the smoothness, the cunning. Learn when it is to show a je ne sais quoi, as if you are tired or bored so as to lull the defender to sleep. There is sometimes about you a sense of urgency, a sense of NOW! that you wield always when it is better to conceal this so as to seize the moment.”
     “How will I know this?”
     “This, my friend, it may only come with time, time on the pitch, time in your life, time with the club. You will learn it when the time is right, and when it is, you will seize it. The words to put it in are hard to find. It comes from loving the game. From loving the club. When you feel it, you will know.”
     “I think I see.”
     “Do not think. Sense it. Let it flow through you.”
     “Got it.”
     “Make sure that you do.”
     “You may go. Where, now is Theo—ah. Theo?”
     “Theo, you’re fast.”
     “You noticed.”
     “Sorry, mate.”
     “As it always is with you, speed is your first choice, but there is more to this. There is a time to run, a time to pause. Too often, you try to simply outrun your mark, but in this you also outrun your own touch. How often have you poked the ball forward only to see the keeper—or the endline—foil you?”
     “A few times, I’ll admit, but it’s just that these through-balls, sometimes, they’re—”
     “It is you whom I have waited the longest to speak, and it is for me you must now wait to hear from. You have been anointed as my heir, but, now, sadly, you must wait. Cruelly, I must say, for you have shown that you know and love this club moreso than others who pretended to. You will come back when the time is right.”
     “Again with the time. I sat through this when you lectured Ox. I get it. I—”
     “I’m not so sure that you do. I expect great things from you. So too does Arsène. He sees it in you, as do I. However, do you see it in yourself?”
     “Of course, I do. Player of the Month for December, right?”
     “True, but ask yourself why you play. Is it for these monthly, personal honors, or do you crave something bigger?”
     “What, like a Golen Boot? Absolutely.”
     “No. Theo. Please listen to me. If you want Golden Boots and Player of the Month, there are other clubs to play for. Here, at Arsenal, there is a team. It has a story, a culture, a tradition. If all you want are personal honors, you may have to go elsewhere. However, if you want actual glory and honor, you must look deeper within yourself to ask, ‘why do I play this game? what gives me joy?’ The answer, Theo, must be larger than yourself. Look around you. Bergkamp. Rice. Pires. Brady. Adams. Wright. Vieira. Seaman. Jennings. You played alongside or watched them and others. They taught you.”
     “I know these things, Thierry, I do. But—”
     “I understand. There is a balance to strike between personal and shared glories. I know that this unfortunate setback will make you stronger, both on the pitch and inside yourself. For myself, I will see you in August, in September, not as the next Henry, but as you, yourself. As Theo. You have been blessed with great talent, Theo. Blessed. This is a blessing, but also a curse. You have a chance to balance these forces. Use the time you have been gifted. In time, if you use it well, it will both glorify and humble you. Use it well.”
     “I will—but, Thierry, I—Thierry? Where did you—Serge? Alex? Did you see where he—man. Heavy…”

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Post-Theo, the goals haven’t changed—the spirit remains!

At the risk of sounding callous, Theo’s injury doesn’t change the calculus surrounding our title-aspirations. For as bright as he was during his all-too-brief return from his previous injury, we managed to climb to the top of the table without him, for the most part. As much as he impressed during his five-game cameo, we simply don’t need another winger to replace him. I’m as gutted as anyone; I had pegged Theo to have a break-out, 20 Prem goals season even after he missed seven matches from September to November and worked his way back to match-fitness.

He was so blithe and care-free while being stretchered off, I suspect that many of us assumed he had suffered an innocuous knock, a minor strain of the sort that would see him miss a few matches. To then learn that he would miss the rest of the campaign—and the World Cup to boot—is a bitter pill, indeed. However, the spirit of this squad, one that we’ve extolled before, one that has helped it overcome other injuries and setbacks, should see it through yet again.

In fact, I think it will have a galvanizing effect. Players will rally, taking up the banner on Theo’s behalf. I don’t refer solely to Serge or Ox, the players to whom the burden of replacing him most directly falls. They’re young, feckless, perhaps enough so not to fully grasp the enormity of the challenge, and more power to them. No, others will have to seize the moment as well, players a bit more wizened if not grizzled, to the ways of the world.

The felling of Theo may force the likes of Ramsey or Özil or Wilshere or Podolski, among others, to play out of their preferred positions, and I say, as I hope they will, too—so be it. At other, free-spending clubs, some other dilettante can simply slot in, looking askance at the man he’s displaced. Here, though, actual teammates, brothers who will go to war for each other, can pick up the banner and soldier on. Let it be so.

In the meantime, our previous priorities remain the same: find support for Giroud. Find someone who, like him, has slogged and humped and trudged so that others could float, flit, and fly around the pitch. Maybe, the urgency around Costa or Mandžukić has grown a bit; maybe, the utility of Berbatov or Klose has shrunk. Tim Payton of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust suggests that we could safely spend £50m during the January transfer-window. What that means—it’s January, it’s a World Cup year, etc.—is anyone’s guess.

One thing, however, is clear—players will have to rally ’round the flag, whether it be for Theo or Giroud or Diaby or any of the others who have put the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears into this and into previous campaigns. In previous campaigns, similar injuries were viewed through a prism of impending catastrophe. This time through, though, the sentiment differs quite a bit. Instead of lamenting what might have been or could have been had the cookie not crumbled, I suspect that our lads will circle the wagons, as the saying goes, and defy those who dare-say that we’ve been knee-capped.

With apologies to Aston Villa (who incurred our wrath on opening day), Fulham, Southampton, and other upcoming fixtures, yippie ki-yay!

Theo ruptured his ACL—out for six months

Here is a devastating announcement posted at the team-site. In brief, Theo has ruptured his ACL, an injury that will require surgery and keep him out of action for six months. He won’t be back in Arsenal red for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign and will also miss the World Cup in Brazil.

This is the same kind of injury that derailed Abou Diaby’s comeback and used to be the kind of injury that ended careers. For what it’s worth, it ended mine, not that I was ever any good. I tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus playing football back in April 2013 and may never play football again. Then again, I’m a bush-leaguer about to enter my fourth decade on this planet.

For a player like Theo, young, quite good, and making a career of the game, the generic prognosis is much better than it ever was. I remember when the American basketballer blew out his knee in 1985. He had surgery and came back for a few years of decent basketball, but it was clear that he had lost his speed and leaping abilities. He was never quite the player he was, and he retired in 1991. Fast-forward almost thirty years, and the progress made in repairing and rehabilitating such injuries has grown, if you’ll pardon the pun, by leaps and bounds. Instead of a torn ACL symbolizing the impending close to a once-promising career, there are plenty of success-stories to suggest that Theo will be back, just as good as he was before the injury. In fact, some players claim, with evidence, that they are faster, stronger, better than before.

For example, American football’s Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL in 2011 but came back for the 2012-13 to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award. He improved his yards-per-carry average from 4.8 over the previous five seasons to 6.5 while rushing for more than 2,000 yards for the first time in his career. Other examples abound. The point is that, as devastating as this injury is for Walcott in the short term, it need not spell the end of his career.

And this is where my experience having torn my ACL comes into play, not that I’m any kind of expert. The ACL cannot heal itself and, once torn, must be replaced entirely. High-profile athletes frequently get a patellar graft, meaning that surgeons borrow a bit of the patellar tendon from the other knee. It’s more-aggressive than other options but leads to greater strength and resilience in the long run. Schlubs like yours truly usually get a graft from their own hamstring ligament or—gasp—a cadaver, methods that promise a quicker recovery by somewhat diminished performance. The surgeon who worked on my knee said that, in the early 1980s, they didn’t even know what the ACL was or how to detect a rupture, much less treat it. Treatment back then consisted, in his words, of a bottle of aspirin, a pair of crutches, and stern advice to rest it until the pain stopped. They’ve made a lot of progress since then. It’s sad to see Theo go down after such a promising return from the earlier injuries, but it’s likely we’ll see him come back for the 2014-15 campaign fresh, vigorous, free of the various other niggling injuries that accumulate, and perhaps even a step or two quicker than he already is.

In the meantime, I now regret my tongue-in-cheek piece from yesterday in which I suggested that Theo, Giroud, and Bendtner feign injury in order to convince Arsene to bring in a new player or two. That suggestion, now shorn of its humor, takes on added significance, if not urgency. In the meantime, let’s wish Theo a speedy recovery!