Arsenal Euro Watch: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Starts for England Against France
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's initial offerings at the senior international level for England might best be defined as "promising." As in, there's still ample room for improvement, despite very intriguing beginnings.
The 18-year-old Arsenal winger, so impressive for the Gunners in his first season of Premier League football in 2011-12, only made his first start for England on June 2 against Belgium.
But wouldn't you know it, manager Roy Hodgson, who was hugely impressed, reports Sporting Life, with Oxlade-Chamberlain's star performance against AC Milan in a crucial Champions League Round of 16 return leg on March 6, inserted the former Southampton man on the left wing to start England's first Group D match against France on Monday.
It was more of the same of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who found himself a regular Arsenal first-team member just months into his career at the Emirates.
As he'd done against Belgium, Oxlade-Chamberlain showed glimpses of his vast potential at Donbass Arena. Never one to be cowed by the magnitude of the occasion, Oxlade-Chamberlain attacked from the start—and looked confident doing it.
While he wasn't involved in the lone England goal in the encounter (which finished 1-1), Oxlade-Chamberlain very nearly released striker Danny Welbeck for a scoring opportunity in the first half.
Collecting the ball just beyond the midfield circle, Oxlade-Chamberlain unleashed a dizzying one-two dribble that left three French defenders in his wake. The England No. 20 then burst through the space afforded him, edging toward the middle with a purposeful set of dribbles before attempting to send a diagonal pass into the path of Welbeck.
The chance was broken up, and France recovered possession. But it was a move eerily reminiscent of Oxlade-Chamberlain's wonderful assist for Robin van Persie against Manchester United in January, when the man affectionately known as "The Ox" had been one of, if not the best, Arsenal performer on the night.
Hodgson will have taken note, however. He also will be aware that some of England's best combinations involved Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Unfortunately, chances don't come thick and fast for the youngster in Hodgson's system, which relies on staunch defense at the expense of a scintillating attack.
Eight men were stationed behind the ball whenever France got possession in the second half, and the number sometimes drifted to nine.
That means England looked to the counterattack for most of their offense, and while Oxlade-Chamberlain has the pace to exploit that kind of scenario, he simply didn't get enough service on Monday to be a major factor in the match.
England did get two prolonged spells of possession, in the middle of the first half and just after the start of the second half. Oxlade-Chamberlain will be hoping for more of that in the next two group stage encounters.
He may just get his wish on Friday against Ukraine, should Hodgson decide to start him again. (And seeing as how the England boss only brought on Theo Walcott in the dying embers of the match and didn't play Stewart Downing at all, it's safe to assume The Ox's spot on the left wing is safe.)
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If he does, expect him to thrive against Ukraine. In their 2-1 win over Sweden, the co-hosts showed a hankering for getting forward. Too much so, at times.
Ukraine committed to attacking until the final whistle of that rollicking victory, allowing Sweden ample opportunity to grab an equalizer, which they almost did on at least three occasions in the dying embers of the match.
While France's defense is certainly not its strongest suit, Ukraine's is even weaker—a fact glaringly noted by the number of opportunities Zlatan Ibrahimovic found to score in the penalty area.
That will be music to The Ox's ears. While his goal return (four in all competitions) won't wow many a pundit, he showed a predatory instinct around the penalty area that could come in handy on Friday.
The one major blight on Oxlade-Chamberlain's performance was a yellow card, picked up in the first half for a rash two-footed lunge on French right-back Mathieu Debuchy on the edge of the sideline.
Theo Walcott may also fancy his chances against England's next opponents.
Considering that Walcott scored the last time he played in Ukraine (in a 2010-11 Champions League group stage match against Shakhtar Donetsk at the Donbass Arena), he will likely be hoping for more time on the pitch. (England travel to the Ukrainian capital to face Sweden at the Kiev Olympic Stadium.)
In French news, Arsenal center-back Laurent Koscielny was an unused substitute on Monday. Olivier Giroud, who appears on the verge of finalizing a move to the Emirates, joined Koscielny on the bench, and also did not enter play.
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