“You become a complete player at 23. From 23 to 30 is certainly where you are at your best. He has the future in front and it’s a bright one.”-Arsene Wenger on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
After his match-winning performance in the Community Shield win over Chelsea in August, many tipped young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to push on to greater heights and become “the player to watch this season.” We have been treated to flashes and glimpses of the Ox’s explosive talent since he made his competitive debut in the red and white four years ago, but this came in fits and bursts rather than a consistent run of form. When he looked to show consistency in his play as he was constantly picked in the starting XI at the start of the 2014/2015 season, injury robbed him (and Arsenal fans) the best part of six months of football. The 2015/2016 campaign, therefore, is one that carries a lot of promise for the Ox, but with his great promise comes expectation, and with that comes pressure to deliver. Not to hype this up too much, but it could be a career-defining season for the English midfielder.
The first question would perhaps be to define his role in the starting XI. Football as we know it has evolved over the years, and natural wingers have slowly been phased out of the modern game. It is quite a rarity these days to find a player that will basically hug the touchline, provide width and an outlet for his side, and get quality balls in to the box for traditional, Lewandowski-type centre-forwards to finish off. What we have been watching is the gradual switch from natural wingers to wide or inside forwards, the likes of Eden Hazard, Andre Ayew and our very own Chilean dynamite Alexis Sanchez. Global football has followed this trend as well, with Pep Guardiola for instance making the notion of playing “opposite wingers” or wingers playing on the “wrong side” popular with the “Ribery” axis; and as the battle for the midfield gained prominence and dominance in the modern era, wingers became more and more dispensable.
Indeed this is Oxlade-Chamberlain’s and Arsenal’s conundrum, with Aaron Ramsey currently the player in direct competition with Oxlade-Chamberlain for that starting berth from the right. Ashley Young is benched for Juan Mata, Jesus Navas is benched for Kevin De Bruyne and the trend goes on. There are those, like Swansea, who play with a winger (Jefferson Montero) and a wide forward (Andre Ayew) but this is becoming more the exception than the norm.
When Oxlade-Chamberlain plays, it is thought that he is tasked with providing width and variety to our play. One of these, he does pretty well. In our drab 2-0 reverse on opening day against West Ham, the Ox was the only player who looked capable of making something happen as he offered something different to the game. His pace, power and trickery is often a joy to watch. What has constantly been an issue is the lack of end-product to go with all the flash beforehand. I’m sure I’m not the only one who remembers a particular sequence in our derby win over Spurs in the Cup when Oxlade-Chamberlain picks up possession around the centre circle, turns beyond Townsend, leaves Erik Dier on his behind, dribbles past Townsend again, then plays a cross-field ball that goes over everyone’s head and out for a Spurs throw. That sequence sums up the Ox’s contribution to our game thus far. He has 85 league appearances (43 starts) to his name, but only six goals and seven assists and has never scored more than four goals in any particular season since he joined in 2011.
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Earlier in the season, Arsene Wenger gave Oxlade-Chamberlain a target of 10 goals this season. To do this, he would do well to emulate the efforts of Alexis Sanchez, whom he says he’s learning a lot from:
“To look at how many goals he scored last year makes it hard for me not to learn from him. It’s his everyday mannerisms around the training ground, how he trains, his performances, how he scores goals, how he plays and how he defends from up front… I’ve definitely put myself in the bracket of somebody who learns from him every day.”
To compare Alex and Alexis would be pretty unfair. However, if the Ox learns from the Chilean like he says, then he will realise that he needs to develop an instinct for goal, and that his movement needs to be sharper and cause more of a problem in the areas that really matter. The manager alludes to the same when he says:
“For me it is down to the quality of the reception. That means the area you get the ball, and that makes Alexis difficult to mark because he gets into positions where he can score. Alexis is a good finisher, he gets into good positions and that is what he has to learn from him. You can work on it, knowing where to be at the right moment.”
Alexis has an insatiable appetite for goal, and had taken an astonishing 31 attempts on goal before his hat-trick against Leceister. Alex, in sharp contrast, has only had nine attempts on goal (two on target) in his seven appearances; which works out at a ratio of about three per 90 minutes (including blocked shots). His movement, as the boss says, needs to allow him to receive the ball in areas from which he can score. This is not to suggest a shift in mentality from wide midfield to inside forward, but there certainly are tips that he could fuse into his game, like learning to get into the box when the ball is on the opposite flank. Anyone who’s watched United play of late will have realized that this is how Mata has scored his goals this season… getting into the box when the ball is on the opposite flank, hence being in the right place at the right time to cash in.
Overall, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an exciting player to watch, no doubt, but he badly needs to add end-product to his play for him to finally realise his potential.
About Lloyd Gitonga our guest who you can follow @Lloyd_Gitonga
I am a 23-year old Kenyan who begun supporting Arsenal quite by chance in 2005 but I got taken in by the football since, and was nick-named “the professor” for having a little bit obsession niggle with football in high school. Writing is all I know, and if it’s about Arsenal then I’m all in. Also, Thierry Henry was signed on my 7thbirthday, which basically means I was born for this club and I have the coolest birthday in the world. When I finally get to visit the Emirates, or Ashburton Grove as I hope it will be named one day, the whole world will know about it. @Goonerdave66 will get me my ticket!