In amongst the carnage of Arsenal’s loss to Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, one curious facet of their display was the cameo appearance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The England midfielder was brought on in place of Francis Coquelin at the base of the Gunners’ midfield with the Gunners chasing the game. By no means is that holding role ideal for Oxlade-Chamberlain. However, the 21-year-old showcased a measure of his outstanding quality in the dying embers of the tie, seemingly giving Arsenal a fillip of positivity to cling to on a dreary night with a sumptuous 30-yard finish.
But things turned quickly for the former Southampton man. His poor touch under no pressure in central midfield gifted the ball to their opponents, they broke and put the tie seemingly beyond the Gunners.
While Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal was a glimpse of his undoubted quality, his faux pas that lead to the third Monaco strike was indicative of a player who hasn’t been enjoyed a sustained run in the team as of late. While the England plan has made 16 starts for the Gunners in the league this season, since Mesut Ozil’s return to fitness he’s yet to complete 90 minutes.
When Oxlade-Chamberlain was signed by Arsenal from Southampton just shy of four years ago, he was rightly revered as one of the brightest teenage talents around. But in amongst the Gunners’ clutch of attacking midfield men, his stature in this squad and in the game as a whole has become blurred.
Yes “the Ox” boasts a real dynamism, the ability to jink past an opponent insouciantly and as was wholly evident in his performance against Monaco, an eye for goal too. But four years on from when he signed for Arsenal, do we know what his best position in the team is? Or have his tender years and versatility prevented him from carving out a role in this squad?
One goal and one assist in league games this season would certainly suggest not and with players like Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky in situ, you just wonder whether or not Oxlade-Chamberlain will be afforded the requisite chances to flourish, either a wide-man or an orthodox central midfielder in this crop.
As aforementioned, the diligent nature of his play coupled with his amicable persona means that Oxlade-Chamberlain is not the kind of character to kick up a fuss. Indeed, somewhat admirably, he’s a player who often applauds the opposition fans at the end of each game and it’s those kind of traits that make him an endearing character.
On paper, has the kind of attributes that should in theory see him as a guaranteed starter in big Champions League games like the one against Monaco too.
Against AC Milan at this stage three years ago, Oxlade-Chamberlain showed his mettle with a virtuoso display at the heart of the Gunners’ midfield and he boasts that desirable marriage of incision and industry that’s so important at this stage of the competition. That’s something put into even starker contrast when you consider the passive performances put in by the majority of Arsenal’s other midfield men.
But his qualities both on and off the field will also do plenty to endear himself to other clubs. And you just wonder if there’s no obvious path to the Arsenal first-team, whether or not Oxlade-Chamberlain may be tempted by the prospect of a transfer a little further down the line.
After all—while he’s still young—the midfielder is not a raw, capricious teenager anymore. He’s 21 years old and English players around his age group—Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane to name a couple—have started to surpass him as they reap the benefits of regular first-team football in a settled spot in the team.
This is not a cry to arms for the Gunners to dump Oxlade-Chamberlain at the first opportunity. He’s shown during his time in an Arsenal shirt that he has the class needed to reach the very pinnacle of the game and with players like Cazorla and Rosicky 30 years old or older, perhaps Arsene Wenger will begin to phase them out in favour of the England man.
But up to now, we’ve only seen glimpses from “the Ox” and if this predicament continues for much longer—while Oxlade-Chamberlain is a young man who would be at loathe to say so—drastic action may need to taken. Time is definitely on his side, but if things remain as they are for much longer, there’s a danger that he may end up not realising his indisputable potential.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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