Last season really ought to have been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s year. On the opening day of the campaign, he was something of a surprise starter, picked ahead of Lukas Podolski on Arsenal’s left wing against Aston Villa. His inclusion was seen as an indication of a dawning bright future at the Emirates Stadium.
However, pretty much everything that could have gone wrong that day did. Arsenal ended up losing the game, sparking furious protests among the fans. Almost lost amid the resulting rage was the fact that Oxlade-Chamberlain had to be substituted with a very serious knee problem. He disappeared for the first half of the season and never regained full fitness.
Although Oxlade-Chamberlain was declared available for World Cup selection, another unfortunate injury prevented him from taking part in Brazil. 2013/14 should have been a breakout year for the man known as The Ox; instead, it was a season characterised by frustration.
However, he is nothing if not resilient. Blessed with a natural assurance in his talents, Oxlade-Chamberlain will be determined to attack next season with the same verve and aggression with which he attacks opposition defenders. It is time for him to make a spot in the Arsenal first team his own.
That level of determination was evident during this weekend’s Emirates Cup. Although the tournament is ostensibly a friendly competition, you would not have been able to tell based on Oxlade-Chamberlain’s displays. He played with a commitment and desire not many other players could match.
His impact was particularly evident in Arsenal’s second game against Monaco. Until Oxlade-Chamberlain’s introduction, the game had been played at a pedestrian pace. As soon as he took the field, he enlivened the proceedings, tearing up the field and daring defenders to make a tackle.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s greatest gift is his ability to carry the ball at speed. He’s not the quickest sprinter at Arsenal, but he’s certainly one of the quickest dribblers. In that respect, he is matched only by the likes of Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez.
That trio will be hugely important to Arsenal this season. Last year, they could never call on three players with that kind of penetrative power. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott alternated long spells on the sidelines, and Sanchez was still with Barcelona. It left Arsenal looking a little one-paced in attack and allowed defenders an unusual degree of comfort against the front line.
If Oxlade-Chamberlain keeps up this form, that won’t be the case in 2014/15. His presence in the XI ensures that Arsenal attack with vibrancy and vigour.
It’s not yet clear what his best position will ultimately be. Arsene Wenger has long intimated that, despite excelling as a winger, Oxlade-Chamberlain will end up as a box-to-box midfielder.
In truth, it doesn’t matter enormously. Wherever he plays, his key attributes remain the same: a robust frame, brilliant balance and the confidence to take men on.
His pre-season performances suggest he is ready for the new campaign. This could yet be The Year of The Ox.
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