Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has backed Theo Walcott to “come back as strong as ever” as the England international begins the long process of recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Walcott, 24, will miss the rest of the season and the 2014 World Cup with the injury he sustained in the FA Cup third-round win against Tottenham on Saturday.
And Wenger has offered up a glowing tribute to the winger, while conceding that the loss is a major blow to the Gunners' title hopes.
“Theo is handling it as well as you can when you have had such a shock because he’s mentally strong, he’s very balanced as a person and he can put it into perspective,” Wenger told Arsenal’s official website. “We know that he will have the dedication and the serious attitude to come back as strong as ever. The only thing I can say is it's very sad news for us and above all for him.”
Wenger added: “We lost a very talented player, a very intelligent player and a player who was just grabbing his form again. From game to game he became more influential, you’ve seen a complete player. He can always decide a game through a final ball or through a goal. Sometimes in the same game he does both.
"I felt against Tottenham he had a very convincing performance because he integrates well our style of play as he’s been here for so many years now. When we combine at a high pace he’s involved in it because he understands exactly what we want to do.”
Wenger admitted Walcott’s injury has heightened his eagerness to make a major signing in the transfer window, but he does not want to make additions to the squad at the expense of his rising stars.
“[Walcott’s injury] has accelerated speculation first and of course my desire as well -- but let's not forget about Serge Gnabry who can play in the first team,” he said.
“We have [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain back and we have many other players who can play on the flanks so to find better solutions than what we have internally will not be easy.
“Up front we lose Theo as a potential central forward and that's maybe where we have to look outside. But we hopefully have [Nicklas] Bendtner back in three weeks. We are there for the opportunities but it's very difficult at the moment.”
Wenger has reported some positive injury news ahead of his side’s next Premier League game at Aston Villa on Monday, with Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud set to return to the Arsenal team. Aaron Ramsey and Kieran Gibbs may also return, as well as the fit-again Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“It is unbelievable because he [Oxlade-Chamberlain] played the first game of the season against Aston Villa, and now he is back and available and it is against Aston Villa again,” Wenger said. “That makes it five months where has been completely out, so that means he is fresh and that should give us a boost.”