Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has experienced a recent improvement in his performances, culminating in being named the official Man of the Match for the Wigan game. It's a welcome return to form for the teenage winger, who had been experiencing patchy form in the first half of this season. Now that he's regained his place in the side, I feel he deserves to keep it.
The dip he experienced between August and December was to be expected. "Second Season Syndrome" is a well-known football phenomenon: A player new to the league often excels in his first season, only to spend the second weighed down by both the level of expectation and marking systems adapted to his particular talents.
The sign of a truly outstanding player is to emerge on the other side of these difficulties, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is on the verge of doing just that. He has regained the direct running, exciting dribbling and intelligent movement that characterised his game last season and is showing the kind of raw ability that won him a surprise call-up to EURO 2012. His talent is catching up with his progress.
A key factor has been the fact that he has returned to his position on the right wing. In the early part of the season, he occasionally found himself shifted out to the left, where he has generally looked less comfortable.
Now, with Theo Walcott playing through the centre, he is flourishing in the very position Theo has vacated. Oxlade-Chamberlain has a knack for beating his full-back to get to the byline, and his delivery is often more consistent than Walcott’s. Many pundits seem in a hurry to turn Oxlade-Chamberlain in to a central midfielder, but for now he is a very capable winger.
In that position, there isn’t too much competition. Aaron Ramsey has been deployed there on several occasions, but I’d say his time as wide midfielder is doing his career more harm than good. Gervinho’s erratic displays infuriate the Arsenal fans, and furthermore he’s about to depart for the African Cup of Nations. Then there is Walcott, who has more recently been used as a striker, but crucially is likely to leave the club on a Bosman transfer at the end of this season.
In order to fulfill his potential, Oxlade-Chamberlain needs games. There is little point investing that time in Ramsey, Gervinho or Walcott—players who, for whatever reason, are unlikely to fill the role on a long-term basis. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has just signed a new five-year deal and is set to be a massive part of the future of this football club. To do that, he needs minutes on the field. Arsenal have no excuse for not giving them to him.