Something to prove
Theo Walcott received the ultimate snub when national manager Fabio Capello dropped him from England's World Cup squad. Based on his performances for Arsenal, he didn't merit a spot.
Walcott's upcoming season with the Gunners is nearly make or break, and he leads off our list of Premier League stars who need to step it up before their clubs altogether give up on them.
Theo Walcott, Arsenal: All that pace and still not much to show for it. Yes, Walcott is only 21, young for a footballer, but the winger hasn't made sufficient progress.
Walcott's final touch consistently lets him down. When he blows by the opposing fullback, he almost invariably makes a poor cross or shot. Making matters worse, he often takes the wrong option.
Walcott's problems are magnified because, technically, he's subpar compared with teammates Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby and Andrey Arshavin in Arsenal's midfield (not that Nasri and Diaby are faultless). Nasri, in particular, seems frustrated whenever Walcott loses possession.
Maybe Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger should slide Walcott into his original position of striker, where he's more comfortable. Maybe that will help him learn how to properly finish. Otherwise, Walcott will continue to offer blazing speed -- and not much else.
Dimitar Berbatov, Manchester United: United fans are losing patience with Berbatov, the brooding Bulgarian.
When United needed Berbatov most last season, down the stretch in a title race, he failed miserably -- not scoring in his final eight games. That included against Chelsea, as Berbatov missed a golden chance to earn the Red Devils a point in the dying minutes, the kind of chance he buried at Tottenham. Only once did he score against a team in the top eight.
It's somewhat surprising that no-nonsense United boss Alex Ferguson keeps playing the striker, especially since his work rate isn't exactly on par with his strike partner, Wayne Rooney. To be sure, Berbatov has fantastic touch, as his chip goal in the Community Shield demonstrated. But Fergie needs to light a fire under Berbatov so he scores goals when they really matter.
Ben Foster, Birmingham City: How Foster has fallen. A year ago, he was the starting keeper at Manchester United, thanks to Edwin van der Sar's thumb injury, and a regular in the England squad. Fergie even tipped Foster as United's long-term No. 1.
But Foster crumbled, making a slew of highly publicized errors early last season. By May, the 27-year-old was behind both van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszczak on the depth chart.
Realizing he had no future at Old Trafford, Foster signed with modest Birmingham City. He has big shoes to fill, given that Joe Hart sparkled on loan for the Blues. Foster can be a capable keeper, as his two-year loan stint at Watford from 2005 to 2007 proved, but unfortunately for him, all that anyone remembers right now are his gaffes in goal.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Manchester City: Adebayor had a great World Cup -- as a pundit with the BBC, that is. Ironically, he shared the set with analysts who heavily criticized him last season. And for good reason.
Adebayor didn't justify his £25 million move from Arsenal. His 14 league goals appeared impressive, but Adebayor frequently went missing in games and it took him awhile to recover from his boneheaded antics against the Gunners in September. Starting off with four goals in five games for his new club, Adebayor netted a paltry five in his next 19.
If Adebayor doesn't produce early, City manager Roberto Mancini won't waste time replacing him. He'll have options.
Then again, Adebayor might be off to Italy soon anyway.
Curtis Davies, Aston Villa: Davies arrived at Villa with much fanfare in 2008. Injuries slowed the big central defender down, although even when healthy he hardly looked convincing.
James Collins entered the lineup last season after Davies underwent shoulder surgery and forged an impressive partnership with the supreme Richard Dunne. Carlos Cuellar's solid displays mean the right back spot belongs to the Spaniard. So where does Davies fit in?
Davies, on the transfer list at Villa to raise cash, is vowing to stick around and work his way back into the fold. He needs to convince a lot of people, perhaps even himself, that he belongs as a starter in the center of defense.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.