Earlier in the week, Arsenal played out a dull, dispiriting draw against Manchester United. On several occasions in that match, Mesut Ozil found himself on the ball in a dangerous position, but with no runners charging into space ahead of him. In Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla, he was flanked by two wingers whose game is more about skill than speed. Arsenal’s centre-forward, Olivier Giroud, is impressive with his back to goal but is certainly no sprinter.
For Ozil, it was hugely frustrating. His playing style is characterised by incisive through-balls. However, the German’s geometric vision is only useful when players are prepared to run in behind. Since losing Theo Walcott to a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, Arsenal have failed to offer that kind of threat.
Until now, that is.
Against Liverpool, Oxlade-Chamberlain showed a masterful willingness to race beyond his marker. In the 47th minute, it was The Ox who burst beyond his marker to meet a teasing Ozil through-ball.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is not just about speed. Having met the pass, he showed technical ability and great awareness to place a pass into the path of the onrushing Lukas Podolski. The German finished with typical aplomb, firing under Brad Jones and into the net.
In that moment, something crystallised within this Arsenal team. For Ozil to flourish, he requires attackers with pace. In the absence of Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain is surely the man to fill that role.
This was a tour-de-force display from the young England international. Not only did he create the second goal, but he also scored the first. It was a simple enough strike, latching on to a rebound at a set-piece to side-foot past Jones. However, that was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s third goal in six starts this season. As he matures, his productivity is improving.
Wenger withdrew Oxlade-Chamberlain after 76 minutes against Liverpool. Hopefully, the manager was merely electing to give him some rest ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich on Wednesday. Based on this blistering evidence, Oxlade-Chamberlain simply has to start.
Arsenal have many players capable of filling that wide-right role, but few of them possess Oxlade-Chamberlain’s devastating combination of attributes. Rosicky, Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are all contenders to start on the right, but all three are more likely to drift inside to create rather than take part in an exhilarating race to the byline. Serge Gnabry shares Oxlade-Chamberlain’s speed and skill but lacks big-game experience. The Ox is undoubtedly the man for the job.
Long way to go but Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain surely edged closer to Hodgson’s final #eng 23— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) February 16, 2014
Having missed the first half of the season through injury, Oxlade-Chamberlain is fresher than many members of the Arsenal squad. He is arguably peaking at just the right time.
As the race for silverware heats up, Oxlade-Chamberlain is on fire.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.