Why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Is the Future of Arsenal's Midfield Power

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Why Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Is the Future of Arsenal's Midfield Power
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Arsenal might be weak in defense and at striker, but their best area is undoubtedly the midfield.

Arsene Wenger has always built his team from the center outward. He has never gone into a season with a weak midfield, and with good reason: The players in the center of the pitch make up the core of a team and largely control games.

In fact, the very first thing Wenger did as Arsenal's manager was to sign Patrick Vieira, who became the team's linchpin for nearly a decade. There has been a hole in the center of the pitch since the dynamic, do-it-all, box-to-box midfielder left the club in 2005.

Arsenal's current midfield cannot be pinned down to a single, repeated lineup like the defense can. Mikel Arteta is a mainstay in defensive midfield (although not now, of course), while one would assume that Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil would play ahead of him.

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However, Wenger has been more tactically malleable and confusing this season. His occasional deployment of midfielders on the wings last season has become a fixture of his starting XIs.

Santi Cazorla was almost always the one shunted out of position to the wing last season, and he did alright there. Yet he is clearly a central attacking midfielder, and it is no coincidence that his second season was underwhelming compared to his first, when he played in the center.

Wenger seems to want to fit as many midfielders into the lineup as he possibly can, and to that end has even played Mesut Ozil, one of the best No. 10s on Earth, on the left wing. Unsurprisingly, the German has been utterly ineffective out there, and the only thing worse than Arsenal's attacking width has been their utter lack of defensive cover on the left side.

It is no fault of Ozil's. What Wenger really needs to effectively use this new system is an extraordinarily versatile midfielder/winger with the positional discipline to play in either position and the skill to do so effectively.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Enter Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The Ox was signed from Southamption as a winger and has played almost every match of his Arsenal career on either the right or left wing. Yet Wenger has said for years that he sees Oxlade-Chamberlain as a midfielder.

While his speed and dribbling ability is superficially more suited to the wing, Oxlade-Chamberlain is good enough at picking passes and seeing lanes that he can operate in the middle as well.

His skill set is unique. The ability to turn on the afterburners and run past defenders is very rarely found in central midfielders. Yet Oxlade-Chamberlain can do to slower and less agile midfielders what he does to speedy full-backs.

He is the ultimate realization of the fluid, unconventional style he seems to want to adopt for his midfield and forward line.

When Cazorla or Ozil play on the left they cannot resist drifting into their natural central positions, gravitating toward the ball since it spends most of its time there. Oxlade-Chamberlain is able to do that if Wenger wants him to, but is equally capable of staying there.

Moreover, he has the skills to play in either a box-to-box role or as a No. 10. When he transitions to the center he will usually be used as the former, but this added layer of versatility only compounds his value.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is only 21 years old. An extremely bright future awaits him in Arsenal's midfield.

 

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