The Changes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain Must Make to Become an Arsenal StarApril 19, 2015
This seems like an appropriate point to assess Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season at Arsenal. His contribution may be over, as a groin injury threatens to call a premature end to his campaign.
Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s FA Cup semi-final with Reading, Arsene Wenger confirmed there was a chance the young England international could miss the remainder of the season. He told Matt Barlow of the Daily Mail:
It is in the balance. The inflammation has not completely cleared. He is on the way, building up and he might join in next week in full training and then we see. He is at least two weeks away.
If we have seen the last of Oxlade-Chamberlain for 2014/15, he will look back on it as a mixed year. In the first half of the season, an injury crisis saw him afforded the chance to establish himself as a first-team regular.
Chamberlain became a regular starter, working effectively in tandem with Alexis Sanchez. He spoke in praise of the Chilean’s influence, telling the London Evening Standard (h/t Aaron Flanagan of the Mirror) of his admiration for his tireless work ethic:
He absolutely loves it. He is like a Duracell battery. He just does not give in. Whether it’s a cup competition or times when you think maybe it could be a chance for him to come out and rest, he is the first one to say he wants to play and he always wants to be a part of it.
That attitude clearly rubbed off on Oxlade-Chamberlain, who did a decent job of replicating Alexis’ muscular dribbling style and enthusiasm for defensive work.
However, the second half of his campaign has been dogged by injury. Even if he was fit, the return to fitness of the likes of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott would probably make it more difficult for him to reclaim his place. What does he need to do to make the step to automatic starter?
It’s sometimes said of young players that they need to cement a permanent position: versatility can be a curse.
As this chart from WhoScored.com demonstrates, Oxlade-Chamberlain has played most of his football this season on the right wing.
However, there has long been a suspicion that he will eventually transition to central midfield. Speaking in January of 2014, Wenger told Dave Kidd of the Mirror:
His future will be there in central midfield, in a deeper role, because he has a good long ball and penetration from deep.
He has good quality to distribute and penetrate individually – very similar to Steven Gerrard.
At the moment he is still in development. It is good for his education to play on the left, right or centrally, but after the age of 23 or 24 he will settle into a position. He will be an Aaron Ramsey type.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is still only 21, so there is no immediate need for him to decide on one position. A glance at the current Arsenal XI will show you Aaron Ramsey playing on the right wing with Santi Cazorla in an unfamiliar deep-lying midfield role. At a club with a system as fluid as Arsenal’s, adaptability is undoubtedly a strength.
Instead, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s improvement must come in his efficiency in the final third. If he is to take Alexis as his role model, he must study the Chilean’s ability to make a tangible contribution in terms of goals and assists. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 22 Premier League appearances this season have yielded just a single goal and only one assist. For a player of his undoubted talent, that isn’t good enough.
It’s not a question of ability: Oxlade-Chamberlain has one of the best shooting techniques in the Arsenal squad. There are two other issues at play. The first is his positioning: unlike Alexis or Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain does not yet have the ability to sniff out where the ball will drop inside the penalty area. He lacks goalscoring instinct.
The second problem is simply one of confidence. If he can put a run of goals together he will inevitably have much more conviction when in dangerous positions.
With doubt over Walcott’s long-term future, Oxlade-Chamberlains seems destined to be a key part of Wenger’s squad next season. If he is to fulfill his potential, he will need to emulate Walcott’s effectiveness in front of goal.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout the 2014-15 season. Follow him on Twitter here.