Theo Walcott unlucky to be snubbed by England but it could boost Arsenal
It would have been a familiar feeling for Theo Walcott, even if the sting felt deeper and rather more painful this time. He has been dropped by England before but Gareth Southgate's phone call on Thursday was doubly unfortunate due to the date the news was delivered. Yesterday, Walcott celebrated his 28th birthday. That's one way to poop a party.
When Walcott was dumped by Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup, it famously ruined a round of golf and left the then 21-year-old heartbroken. His absence from the Euro 2016 travelling party last summer was less of a surprise but it turned out to be highly significant: Arsene Wenger credited it with Walcott's distinctly improved form at the start of this season.
It is true that the Walcott of spring 2017 is very different to that of summer 2016. Aided by a more rigorous preseason training regime and the narrowing of his focus to let his dream of transitioning into a quality striker die, Walcott has scored 17 goals in all competitions and three in his past four outings alone. For once, he can feel rightly aggrieved at being overlooked by his country.
Sam Allardyce called him into his first squad after the Euros and Walcott played as recently as November for Southgate, in a friendly against Spain that finished 2-2 at Wembley. With Harry Kane out injured, Walcott has outscored anyone else available to the new permanent England manager and Walcott was not shy in explaining his credentials to Southgate on the phone.
Elsewhere on ESPN FC, Mattias Karen has done an excellent job of explaining why Walcott is too one-dimensional for England, and there are no real arguments here. He is Arsenal's longest serving player, with his length of service outstripping that of Ian Wright and Thierry Henry, and so there are no secrets when it comes to recognising his limitations.
And yet, in a squad where Southgate has had to call up 34-year-old Jermain Defoe due to a chronic lack of goal scorers, and which otherwise has the complexion of a team hanging on in midtable in the Premier League save for a few rather more talented individuals, it seems a bit unusual that Southgate couldn't find room for him. Walcott is not the most rounded footballer, but he does serve a purpose. Arsenal have relearned that this season.
And so, the question for the club is how Walcott will react to his England snub and how they can turn it into a positive.
The summer suggested that international disappointment was a motivating factor in Walcott's improvement and it is no bad thing if he feels he has a burning point to prove. In the early months of the season, he was a very effective counterpoint to Alex Iwobi on the other flank in a 4-2-3-1: whereas Iwobi would drift inside to link up with teammates, Walcott would surge into the box and try to get on the end of moves. More recently, with his latest burst of goals, it's been a similar role save for the fact that Arsenal have used a three-man midfield in Mesut Ozil's absence.
The differences are largely semantic: the point is that Walcott has sprinkled goals across the campaign. In fact, the longest he has gone without a goal all season has been four games. Last season it was 10 games, the season before that nine.
Walcott's renewed competency has been one of the minor subplots of Arsenal's season and it all stems from that failure to make the squad for Euro 2016. "He has become more of a complete player, more efficient," Wenger said after news of Walcott's omission broke this week. "He does better in the tactical part of his game and works hard defensively and offensively. He has turned up in big games as well."
If another international snub sets Walcott further along this path, then Arsenal won't complain.
In truth, Walcott isn't ever going to be a great player, and he probably isn't good enough for England when everyone is fit and at the manager's disposal. But he has stepped up this season and that is to his credit, even if it didn't stop his birthday being ruined.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport