With Arsenal set to head to Burnley with an almost full complement of players – Matheiu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby are now all confirmed as fit (via the Independent) – questions have to arise over what squad, what team and which players will Wenger now select.
It’s a headache the Arsenal boss won’t bother getting the Nurofen out for and one he will seriously enjoy having after a season of short squad numbers and freak injuries.
But the return of these stars, as well as the recuperation of a number of players who missed the Liverpool game through minor problems, could inadvertently reveal Wenger’s future plans and thinking in the case of Theo Walcott.
Should we have known Theo’s knee ligament injury could have such a damaging effect on his Arsenal career…?
- Arsenal must outmanoeuvre Galatasaray to win race for £2m ‘bargain’ transfer
- Arsenal reportedly set to sign free agent after impressive trial
- Arsenal have ‘concrete interest’ in signing Bayern Munich II star
When the winger left the squad for what would be a nine-month absence in January last year after tearing his ACL, Walcott was a man at the top of his game. Or at least getting there.
Five goals and four assists in just nine starts in the first few months of last season following a 2012/13 campaign with his best ever return, 14 goals and ten assists.
But since his return to the Arsenal squad this season, he’s made just thirteen appearances, and this despite a supposed return to full fitness in October.
The problem Theo faces is perhaps not entirely one of his own making, with Arsenal embarrassed by their riches in attack after a gluttonous summer transfer window by Arsene Wenger.
After all, the dogged ferocity of recent acquisition Danny Welbeck, and the insatiable appetite of Alexis Sanchez have highlighted the glaring absences in Walcott’s game.
The 26-year-old might have his renowned pace but his complete lack of defensive contribution down his wing or pressing from the front is almost the antithesis to how Arsenal have managed to find success this season, particularly against the big teams, and the reason for their late, maybe title challenging revival.
And that’s why this weekend is so important for Theo’s future aspirations.
If Wenger has a full squad available, and he should do, bar the absent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (via Arsenal.com), will Theo even get a game? Will he even make the squad?
If we imagine there isn’t minor doubts over the likes of Szczesny and Koscielny (via Arsenal.com) who could both be ruled out at the last minute after late fitness tests, will Walcott even make the bench if we concede he will definitely not make the starting XI?
One spot on the bench to Burnley will be occupied by Wojciech Szczesny and if we take the example of squads in recent weeks; Flamini, Gibbs and Gabriel will be sat alongside him.
That leaves three spots up for grabs, and these have been mostly occupied by Tomas Rosicky, Walcott and one other dependent on how Wenger has set up his starting XI for a specific opponent and thus what specific personnel he has chosen.
Against Liverpool this final place was given to Welbeck, whereas Cazorla found himself in the same situation against Newcastle.
But with the return of four formidable squad stars to fitness, it’s intensely debatable as to who will make the trip up to Lancashire and who will remain at London Colney watching on the TV.
Wilshere’s recent run-outs in the U-21s suggest Wenger is trying to build him to be match ready as soon as possible. Whilst Arteta is the club captain and perhaps the perfect replacement for Francis Coquelin should anything unfortunate happen to him against the Clarets. You could also argue for the immediate return of Mathieu Debuchy.
So where exactly is the room for Walcott?
If he isn’t in the squad this weekend, it certainly wouldn’t signal the end to his time at Arsenal, neither would it confirm Wenger didn’t trust him anymore.
But it’s hardly the most encouraging sign either and if, as is his right, Walcott believes he deserves a starting role, he may have to begin making enquiries elsewhere.