In 2011, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain signed for Arsenal from Southampton in a move tipped to be similar to that of Theo Walcott, a 16-year-old ‘future supertstar’ known for his blistering pace, joining the north London club for a fee £12m+ add-ons.
The Ox made his debut against no lesser opposition than Manchester United, in the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, a torrid day for all at the club, but perhaps the character building result that the Ox needed to experience at such a tender age.
Despite it being four years ago, possibly the England international’s most impressive performance to date was that 3-0 victory at the Emirates against former European giants AC Milan. The Gunners were in a desperate position, 4-0 down after the first leg and in need of inspiration and individual brilliance, unfortunately Chamberlain’s unbelievable contribution from central midfield – an unfamiliar role for the youngster, was not enough to help Arsenal advance beyond the last 16, and the now-England international was only 17 at the time, later described by football legend Marco van Basten as a “real gem”.
Versatility means that the Ox can be considered for a number of roles – against West Ham on Sunday, the 21-year-old was used on both sides of midfield as well as right-back, with the Gunners looking to overturn the deficit. In 2012, Arsene Wenger said that he believes the Ox will develop into a central midfielder: “His future will be there in central midfield, in a deeper role, because he has a good long ball and penetration from deep.
“He has good quality to distribute and penetrate individually – very similar to Steven Gerrard.”
A series of injuries have stalled the career of the 21-year-old, but impressive performances against Chelsea in the Community Shield victory, where his beautiful left-footed strike was the difference between the two sides, as well as his tireless efforts against West Ham as the club suffered a 2-0 home defeat on the first day of the 2015/16 Premier League season will continue to prove convincing to both supporters and Arsene Wenger himself. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a very direct footballer, he understands that the target in football is to take the ball from one end of the pitch and put it in to the back of the opposition’s net, and gives his all to do so in each and every game, but perhaps what has frustrated supporters most since his arrival at the club (bar his injury problems) is his lack of a convincing final ball – the former Southampton man has scored 13 goals from 118 appearances in a Gunners shirt, a very poor return for a man with so much attacking talent.
But here comes the turning point for the Ox, his end product has begun to develop in to something definitive, put on full display as early as last season. Despite suffering at the hands of Monaco in the UEFA Champions League, Chamberlain buried a beautifully curled effort beyond Danijel Subasic, who could do nothing about the strike from over 20-yards out.
After suffering an injury against Manchester United in the quarter final of the FA Cup, the 21-year-old did not return to first team action until the final, where he came on to the pitch as a late substitute. Within two minutes of being on the pitch, he had an assist – a powerful, drilled cross found the feet of the well-positioned Olivier Giroud after a determined run on the right side of the pitch, crushing the side from the Midlands as the Gunners famously retained the trophy.
These are only small aspects of his game which can be looked at on a much larger scale, but as we enter the early stages of the season, the Ox has realised that he must take his chance and really prove that he is the man worthy of a position in the first XI ahead of the likes of Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell, while emerging talents Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide will give him something to think about. Considering his performances throughout pre-season; his strike against Chelsea in the Community Shield, the passionate celebration that followed and the fact that he was the only one who seemed to care about Sunday’s result, as well as the fact that the European Championship in France is coming up at the end of the season, and his position in the team is nowhere near guaranteed – as is the case for everyone, Chamberlain, more than anyone, will know that now is the time to show what he is truly capable of.
For now, it may be cliché, but Chamberlain must take the handbrake off, get a consistent run of games and continue developing his contribution to Arsenal’s future success.
What must be remembered is his age, 21-years-old. The Ox is a long-term investment that is beginning to pay off.