Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s move to Arsenal in 2011 came at an unusual time. The then 18-year-old was surely a big prospect, and the Gunners weren’t the only massive club to be in on the Ox sweepstakes, but Arsenal supporters wanted proven players at that particular time. When Chamberlain arrived, the north London club was yet to sell any of their principal players during the 2011 summer (outside of Gael Clichy); nevertheless, the departures of star midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri loomed overhead. Two weeks after Chamberlain’s transfer to Arsenal and they were gone.
While Gooners weren’t initially thrilled about the Ox’s transfer, the England international quickly became a fan-favorite due to his dribbling abilities and electric pace. Chamberlain’s first season with the Gunners was fairly positive, as the midfielder netted four goals and was eventually nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Two of his four goals on the campaign came on debuts in certain competitions with Arsenal. Chamberlain scored in his first EFL Cup match and his debut Champions League game with the Gunners.
Following a successful freshman season with one of England’s top teams, many fans assumed Chamberlain would quickly make the jump into a perennial Premier League player. Although he has shown glimpses of what he is capable of, the Ox has not shown consistency as a top player during the first five years in north London. In fact, he entered the current campaign nearing a bit of a crossroads in his career. Now 23, Chamberlain is beginning to enter his prime, and he needs to prove that he can handle being included in the starting XI week in, week out.
The pacy midfielder has played well to start his 2016/17 season, scoring five total goals (tied for the most he’s ever scored for Arsenal in an entire campaign), but he has been battling Alex Iwobi for playing time in the Premier League. Iwobi, just 20 years old, has been chosen on the left wing more often than Chamberlain in the current Premier League season by manager Arsene Wenger.
Following Arsenal’s victory over Reading in the EFL Cup last week, in which Chamberlain netted both goals for the Gunners, Wenger was full of praise of his player. “I think he has added some belief to his finishing,” stated the Frenchman. “Now we have hope that whenever he has the ball, something can happen. He’s powerful but he also finishes well and he’s added that to his game.”
Wenger also suggested that there has been change in Chamberlain’s mentality recently. “I think the quality of his concentration, of his focus, is sharper. He is more determined and he has worked a lot mentally you know, to be really focused and I think it comes out every day in training and now it is starting to come out in the games.”
The maturity and level of focus is certainly noticeable from the Ox this season. In seasons past, Chamberlain would receive the ball on the flank and dribble into a cul-de-sac of defenders almost routinely. However, his willingness to pass the ball, or even to take a shot on goal, has dramatically improved in recent matches.
Wenger will have a difficult decision heading forward when choosing a starting XI, but these are types of issues that are positive ones for the club. The Gunners haven’t always had deep squads in recent years, and the rise of Chamberlain, as well as Iwobi, benefits the team immensely. Nevertheless, if Chamberlain continues this upward climb as a player, Wenger will be forced to include him in as many matches as possible.
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