With a little over three weeks to go until a rare local derby, guest blogger Pete South wonders if Theo Walcott can shine in Cardiff – and identifies one of Walcott’s biggest fans.
Those studying the online sportsbook will note that being selected for a World Cup isnâ€™t always necessarily a good thing, while being dropped can also have its benefits.
Wayne Bridge, caught up in the eye of a storm as tabloids exposed the comings and goings of ex-team mate John Terry and his former girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel, decided to rule himself out of Fabio Capelloâ€™s squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Lampooned as he was lamented for his decision, sports betting pundits note how Bridge had the last laugh as he stood back and watch England burn to the ground.
Conversely Theo Walcottâ€™s selection for the 2006 tournament has gone down in history alongside a despairing Rob Greene fumble orÂ aÂ Wayne Rooney stamp as one of the biggest aberrations in English football in recent years.
Sven Goran Eriksson took the young winger with him to Germany at the expense of Jermaine Defoe and promptly left him out of every single game. To add to his World Cup woes, Fabio Capello didnâ€™t include him in his squad for South Africa as his form deteriorated towards the end of last season.
Both decisions involving Walcott affected the young winger, his club boss Arsene Wenger concurs, and as yet he has been unable to showcase his undoubted talent at international level
Is he ready to finally leave his mark on England as they look to recover the aura that slipped so badly during the farce in South Africa? The upcoming qualifier against Wales could provide the perfect opportunity for the former Southampton man.
He has impressed sporadically for England, most notably his hat-trick against Croatia in the World Cup qualifying campaign, but his omission from the world Cup squad in 2010 began a series of hurtful insights into his ability.
TV pundit Alan Hansen was ruthless in his assessment of Walcott, suggesting he lacked a â€œfootballing brainâ€, and was more akin to a sprinter than a footballer.
It is the curse of the modern English winger that pace and dribbling ability cannot be married with a decent final ball – Aaron Lennon and Adam Johnson suffer as Walcott does â€“ but Walcott is the only one of the three who has been marked as the next big thing for England since a young age, the emphasis is on him.
His performance against Barcelona in Arsenalâ€™s first leg Champions League tie was fairly typical. Some malice, some dangerous running, but he cut inside too often, refused to take his man on and most frustratingly of all, failed to put in a final ball against a side that Lionel Messi admitted they were worried about.
â€œBarcelona players are not scared easily but I can tell you that when we played Arsenal last season he truly worried usâ€ the current Ballon Dâ€™Or holder said and it is a source of constant frustration that he is unable to replicate the form that saw him terrorise the Catalan club at the same stage last year.
But he has matured this season and looks to be learning his craft â€“ something which can be said of the entire Arsenal team as they look for their first trophy since 2005. His seven goals so far is a good return for a wide-man, and with Arsenal still in with a chance of winning four trophies this year, big things are expected of him.
If England can find the best way to utilise him and extract all the talent from his right foot then they will have a very dangerous prospect on their hands. He is still young and learning, but sooner rather than later he must prove he is the man for England or face getting left behind. He is good enough, players of Lionel Messiâ€™s calibre do not dish out praise at will, but now is the time, when England need him most, to show he is a world class talent.