Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is not Theo Walcott.
So Arsene Wenger took pains to remind Arsenal fans when he bought his second young, speedy Englishman from Southampton in five years. Speaking to Arsenal.com following Oxlade-Chamberlain's arrival, the manager said:
He [Oxlade-Chamberlain] likes more to be in the build-up of things and Walcott is more a guy who makes intelligent runs.
...I believe that Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a central midfielder one day and Walcott a central striker one day. That shows the difference between the two players.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (to whom I will hereafter refer by the second half of his surname, as it appears on his jersey, and as it is an example of nominal splicing which is so tedious to reproduce), has so far failed to distinguish himself from his compatriot.
Of course, The Ox has not been given much of an opportunity to demonstrate his nuanced creativity from the cramped confines of midfield—much like Walcott has largely been denied the opportunity to play as a striker, which he so ardently desires.
(Chamberlain, however, is much more suited to the midfield than Walcott is to grappling with center-backs for 90 minutes, but that shall be set aside for a different article.)
Rather, Chamberlain has been deployed on either the right or, more commonly, the left wing during almost all of his 41 Premier League appearances for Arsenal.
To what effect? Despite Wenger's assurance that both of his young English lads are actually quite different when one examines them more closely, similarities in their essential traits and skills has allowed each to be used in very similar roles. After all, why would Wenger feel any sort of compunction to distinguish his two starlets from one another if they were not intrinsically similar?
Certainly, though, Chamberlain is a somewhat different sort of player; this has determined, to a large extent, what and how significant his contribution to Arsenal has been since his arrival.
It is dangerous, however, to base one's opinion about a particular athlete solely—or even largely—upon their initial impact at their first major club, and in their inaugural season in the top-flight. His motivation might be somehow affected, and, of considerably greater importance, opposing defenses have no experience—no blueprint, to use a cliche—for handling this young enigma.
Let us then evaluate Chamberlain based upon his contributions during his second, and most recent season at Arsenal.
There is more material to work with, then, but less to praise. Chamberlain recorded nine more Premier League appearances and seven more in all competitions than during his first campaign according to ESPNFC, but only netted half as many goals, both in the former and latter categories.
Many of these appearances were the products of substitutions, as Lukas Podolski was Arsenal's preeminent left winger for the first half of the season and Santi Cazorla was chosen to fill the German's void during the latter half, when the first-choice's fitness began to fade.
Walcott was the de facto option on the right, and the midfield was almost always too crowded with exceptional talent to allow space for Chamberlain.
Still, we were treated to many darting runs down the flank (mostly the left flank), impressive displays of dribbling and close control, and several audacious attempts from outside the penalty box.
One of his best and most valuable qualities is that he is one of the only players on Arsene Wenger's team who is utterly unafraid to have a go from range.
Whereas Gervinho probably winces at the mere thought or suggestion of doing so—is there a name for this peculiar phobia?—Chamberlain's sumptuous goal against Coventry in last season's Capital One Cup perfectly illustrates how this fearlessness, coupled with natural giftedness, can yield such spectacularly beneficial results.
Sticking with the above contrast, Chamberlain seems to be the sort of player who is able to marry the sort of directness and skill when the ball is at his feet with the confidence and ability to strike the ball like Steven Gerrard.
Less favorable analogies have been made.
But Chamberlain's second campaign as an Arsenal player was tinged with far too much disappointment to overlook. Few, if any, appearances were as spectacular as those he occasionally produced during his debut season, and there was a general feeling that much of his vast latent potential was laying fallow.
Certainly, after the sporadic heroics of his first year, the second was a let-down, if not an outright regression. The stench of stagnation was pervasive.
Andrew Mangan of Arseblog and Arseblog News wrote at the beginning of last season that Chamberlain "is emerging as a real contender for a midfield role this season." Based upon Arsene Wenger's statements, he certainly has a future in the center of the pitch.
Last season, during one of the only games Chamberlain has ever played as a midfielder for Arsenal, he executed his role with aplomb.
And this was no meaningless Champions League game played after the group stage had already been decided—on the contrary, Wenger inserted the 19-year-old into the roiling cauldron of St. James' Park on the final day of the season, tasking him with partially compensating for the lost ability of Mikel Arteta and assuming much of the Spaniard's responsibility as a multi-faceted midfielder.
On that day, at least, Chamberlain satisfied Wenger's every demand. Despite his "sophomore slump." Then, Arsenal's most promising teenager still has a very promising future ahead of him.
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