Do Liverpool Fans Really Rate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?

Rob LancasterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 8, 2017

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will hope to impress new manager Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will hope to impress new manager Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.Michael Regan/Getty Images

After a delay due to the international break, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain officially started life as a Liverpool player on Wednesday.

A beaming Jurgen Klopp was there to welcome him into his new home. The Liverpool manager—with a back pack casually hanging off both shoulders—greeted his deadline-day recruit with a handshake and a hug.

Having seen off competition from Chelsea to sign the player from Arsenal, the Reds should be delighted with the addition of a 24-year-old England international. Winning the battle to bring in Oxlade-Chamberlain is one thing, however. Now Liverpool must fathom out exactly what to do with him.

Astonishingly for a player who has made 132 Premier League appearances and represented his country at Euro 2012, there's still a question mark over his best position.

Is he really a central midfielder, or is he better used as a wide forward? Is his versatility a gift or a curse? And do Liverpool fans think he's a worthwhile addition?

Oxlade-Chamberlain has flattered to deceive in his England career so far.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has flattered to deceive in his England career so far.Julian Finney/Getty Images

         

The Arsenal Years

Oxlade-Chamberlain occupied a number of roles during his time at Arsenal, including lining up at wing-back in the closing stages of a career at the Emirates Stadium that never quite hit the expected heights.

There were highs with the Gunners—one standout performance against AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League, back in March 2012, sticks out in this writer's memory—but too many lows.

Injuries hampered his progress, too, leaving his former club's fans frustrated.

"The main problem during most of his time with the Gunners was that he spent lengthy periods on the sidelines," Dan Critchlow, an Arsenal supporter who writes for the Daily Cannon, said.

"Although he made 45 appearances last season, this was far from the norm, and still only involved 27 starts. In six years, Ox was absent for more than 500 days through injury. This meant a struggle to nail down a position when he was available.

"The other reason I think the England international never completely found his place in the team was that, for everything positive he brought to any given position, he brought almost as many negatives.

"On the wing, Ox's pace and ability to beat a man improves with every passing year, but his final ball continues to be disappointing. In the middle, the former Gunner had a great eye for a long pass but was liable to fall asleep and give the ball away in dangerous areas.

"The moment that really summed the 24-year-old up for me was Arsenal’s home loss to AS Monaco in 2015.

"We were 2-0 down, chasing the game in the 90th minute, and Oxlade-Chamberlain won possession on the edge of the box and curled a shot into the top corner. Then, just two minutes later, he gave the ball away and Monaco scored from the resulting counter to effectively end the tie."

Oxlade-Chamberlain is the footballing puzzle Gunners manager Arsene Wenger couldn't quite complete. There is a player in there, yet it still feels like we are waiting to discover his primary role on the field.

The Klopp Factor

In the short term, Oxlade-Chamberlain faces a fight just to get into Liverpool's first XI. The Reds are unbeaten so far this season and, as well as the new signing, also have Philippe Coutinho still around.

The move should show if the teenager who burst onto the scene at Southampton had peaked under Arsene Wenger or, as Liverpool supporters want to believe, just plateaued in familiar surroundings. A change of club—and more importantly a change of coach—could yet propel Oxlade-Chamberlain to another level.

At £35 million for a player in the final year of his contract, the Reds have taken an expensive gamble. However, Klopp has a history of improving individual talent.

Adam Lallana struggled to make an impact when Brendan Rodgers was in charge at Liverpool. Under the German's stewardship, however, he has blossomed into a key performer for club and country.

Matt Thielen—a writer for LFC Transfer Room—can see the potential for Liverpool's latest recruit to follow in the footsteps of his international team-mate:

Others have developed under Klopp, too. Roberto Firmino is flourishing as a centre-forward in a front three, while Emre Can continues to get better and better as a box-to-box midfielder. Even Alberto Moreno's career at Anfield has somehow been salvaged from the wreckage of the 2015 UEFA Europa League final.

"Transitioning from Arsene Wenger, who hasn’t developed a star player in at least five or six years, to a big friendly German man who’s made a career out of taking rough blocks of coal and polishing them into diamonds is exactly what Oxlade-Chamberlain needs at this stage of his career, " Alex Barilaro of Anfield Index believes.

"A move to central midfielder could well unlock that pure physical upside, as well as help him hone his final product.

"If the goals start coming, as Ox bursts through the centre of midfield and arrives late into the box, then Klopp will have found himself a gem of a player, simply needing a fresh start with one of the best developers of talent in world football."

Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted in a video interview with the club's website (h/t David Lynch of LiverpoolFC.com) that his preferred position is attacking midfielder. However, he also added:

I've spoke to the manager about this, there's going to be a lot of positions [available] in this team: up-front, because the wingers play a bit more inside, or the midfield. I wouldn't like to put a label on it at this stage, I need to get a feel for how the team plays and obviously it's for the manager to decide. But ultimately, I just want to be able to be an attacking influence and have that effect further up the pitch; whether that's from an attacking midfield position or one of the wider positions coming in, I'm not too fussed.

Klopp has to work out where to deploy his latest weapon. It's a welcome problem to have, considering the extra depth such a versatile player brings to the squad.

     

The Fans Have Their Say

Bleacher Report's followers were asked to vote in a Twitter poll on Oxlade-Chamberlain's likely position at Liverpool:

While "expensive bench warmer" topped the list, that term is ambiguous. Injuries, fluctuations in form and a hectic fixture list will force Klopp to be fluid with his XI, particularly as they fight for glory on four fronts.

With Lallana injured and uncertainty over Coutinho's state of mind following his failure to force a move to Barcelona, there are midfield minutes up for grabs, beginning with Manchester City away on Saturday.

Yet there is also the option of pushing the pacy Oxlade-Chamberlain further forward. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have flourished in the early weeks but will need to be rested at times.

As some of the replies made clear, there will be plenty of opportunities to perform at different times—and in a range of positions—during what is sure to be a long, hard season:

Pundit Gary Neville offered his thoughts to Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day (h/t Football365): "He [Oxlade-Chamberlain] doesn’t strengthen the team but what he does do is strengthen the squad."

Liverpool needed to add those extra numbers, though. They paid a premium to get their man now, rather than potentially get him for nothing next July, because of the need to expand their options.

Klopp's style demands a lot from his players. Oxlade-Chamberlain will have to learn on the fly without a pre-season to get acclimatised, but he has characteristics that should speed up the process. Athletic and attack-minded, the high pressing game the Reds use to win possession should suit him down to the ground.

Early on, he may have to accept a seat on the bench. However, Klopp's Reds are all about the system, not the stars. Oxlade-Chamberlain will be plugged into whatever role the boss sees fit at the time.

As Richard Jolly wrote for This Is Anfield: "No one is bigger than the club, and while Klopp may not plan it that way, the manager often feels the star. But Liverpool’s tactical and philosophical approach can make it harder to assess individuals than it is at many another club. It is about the group."

The Reds have invested in potential. While the coaching staff will hope to tap into it over the long haul, the success of the deal largely depends on the individual.

On the whole, Liverpool's supporters appear excited at the acquisition of Oxlade-Chamberlain, the utility man who needs to prove himself to a new fanbase, no matter what position he occupies.

     

Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.