Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will look back on the 2012-13 season with mixed feelings.
At international level, he excelled. He scored his first international goal against San Marino and established himself in the senior squad. At 19, he already has 10 England caps to his name.
Domestically, Oxlade-Chamberlain would have hoped to have a greater impact.
Heading into the season, Arsenal fans would have felt justified in holding high hopes for their young midfielder. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s emergence was one of the few positives in Arsenal’s 2011-12 campaign. After making his debut in Arsenal’s humiliating defeat at Old Trafford in August 2011, he went on to become an integral member of the squad, with a dominating midfield display against AC Milan a particular highlight.
However, Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to have suffered from the infamous condition known as "second season syndrome." It is a commonly-observed phenomenon whereby a player has an extraordinary impact in their debut season only to fall slightly short of that standard second time around. It is usually attributed to the fact that they have lost the element of surprise: opposition managers know what to expect and subsequently how to deal with them.
All of this could apply to Arsenal’s young tyro. Oxlade-Chamberlain has not regressed, but he has failed to kick on as much as he would have hoped. He began the season starting ahead of Theo Walcott, but Walcott’s good form and the resolution of his contract troubles saw the more experienced man reclaim his place.
Oxlade-Chamberlain will be disappointed to have only started 17 games across the entire season. That’s one less than the erratic Gervinho, who also spent considerable time away at the African Cup of Nations.
A simple solution to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s struggles is to give him more game time. Only by playing regularly can he be expected to gain the experience which will allow him to improve.
French media outlets, including Le Foot Gazette des , are reporting that Gervinho could be a transfer target for French side Lyon. If Arsenal were to let the Ivorian go, they would be able to invest more time in the development of Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is six years younger and is already demonstrating significantly superior technical ability.
It’s worth noting that Oxlade-Chamberlain doesn’t have to be starting games to contribute.
In the last few weeks of the 2012-13 season, he began to carve a niche role as an impact substitute. Against Reading for example, Oxlade-Chamberlain entered the field of play after 75 minutes. Within 120 seconds, he had burst in to the penalty area and won a penalty, which Mikel Arteta subsequently converted.
His raw pace and upper-body strength make "The Ox" a nightmare for defenders with tired legs to shackle. He should also endeavour to add more goals to his game: a final tally of just two is poor for a player with such outstanding shooting ability.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s career has already mirrored Theo Walcott’s in his journey from Southampton to Arsenal to precocious England international. Perhaps there will be another parallel added, as Oxlade-Chamberlain imitates Walcott’s apprenticeship as an impact substitute prior to becoming a regular starter and scorer.
Perhaps another clue as to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s role next season came on the final day of the Premier League at Newcastle. When Mikel Arteta was withdrawn with a calf problem, Oxlade-Chamberlain was drafted in as a central midfielder—the very same role in which he excelled against Milan 14 months ago. Perhaps this, rather than on the wing, is where his future truly lies.
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