Arsenal’s opening-day defeat against West Ham United was a notably mixed day for one player in particular. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started brightly, but faded in the second half on top of committing a major error that led directly to a Hammers goal. Those are the inconsistencies and kinks that Oxlade-Chamberlain still has to iron out of his game—if he can, he could undoubtedly be the next big star at the Emirates Stadium.
A "star," in football terms, is a player who can break open a game single-handedly. It’s someone who can take a match by the scruff of the neck; who can bend the narrative with their gifts. There are a couple of examples already at Arsenal, the most obvious being Alexis Sanchez: A globally recognised talent with the capacity to win a match with one moment of inspiration over 90 minutes of relentless endeavour.
In terms of pure ability, Oxlade-Chamberlain is the Arsenal player who seems most obviously placed to follow suit. Ever since he burst onto the scene in his mid-teens with Southampton, he has appeared destined for stardom. In some respects, Alexis is a good comparison for the young England international: They’re both muscular dribblers; barrel-chested bulldozers capable of splitting a defence with a dynamic dribble.
Last season, the two played in tandem to tremendous effect. With Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain occupying a flank each, Arsenal had a pair of wingers with the willingness to track back and the audacious ability to outwit even the most canny of full-backs.
It’s long been assumed that Oxlade-Chamberlain will eventually end up as a central midfielder. However, at the moment that would not appear to be the best use of his abilities. He has the speed and strength to burst past his marker and create chances in the final third. Employing him as a deep-lying midfield playmaker would significantly reduce his attacking impact.
If he is to play in one of the three positions behind the central striker, he must improve his goal return. Last season, Oxlade-Chamberlain managed just one Premier League goal in the entire campaign. For a player with his gifts, that’s not good enough. Arsene Wenger anticipates a significant improvement, telling Tom Dutton of the Evening Standard, “I don't see why a guy like [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain should not have an ambition to score 10 goals.” If Oxlade-Chamberlain can reach double figures this season, it will significantly accelerate his ascension to star billing.
His performance in the first match of the season was one of two halves. In the first 45 minutes, he was the most threatening Arsenal player. His direct dribbling style posed a constant menace to the West Ham defence. However, in the second half, a naive attempt to retain possession in his own half contributed to the Hammers’ second goal. After that, he was redeployed as an attacking right-back, and struggled to make a significant impact.
Fortunately, it is still very early on in the season. If Oxlade-Chamberlain can smooth out the rough edges in his game, he could finish the season no longer a starlet but a bona fide star.