For a while now I have been massively critical of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
He is now 22, and for me, he has not improved as a player from when he first joined the club. He still makes the same mistakes he made when he first came to Arsenal in a £12million deal from Southampton.
He still always looks a yard off the pace, a stone overweight and tries to take on one player too many. People used to have a go at Theo Walcott for having “no footballing brain” but at 22, Walcott was far superior than Chamberlain. And the stats prove it.
For a player so talented, or reportedly talented, Chamberlain does not score enough, or create enough. 6 goals in 95 Premier League games is just not good enough.
I saw a stat before this weekend that Chamberlain has never played more than 5 games in a row for Arsenal. This perhaps highlights his issues. He has never stayed fit enough, or inform enough, to get a run in the team. Likewise, he has never been given the chance to get the run in the team to build his confidence up and feel relaxed within the side.
This season, Chamberlain’s form / injuries / weight has been so poor that (along with his own form) he has fallen behind Joel Campbell in the reckoning for a first team place.
Of course, Campbell is the perfect example about how to not judge a player. 6 months ago he would have been on many peoples ‘deadwood’ list. Now he is an important squad member. So we should be careful not to write of Chamberlain.
Campbell got his chance, incidentally, when Chamberlain picked up yet another injury – he has had 9 in 3 years. He got his head down, worked hard, and kept it simple. Chamberlain could do with doing the same.
At the weekend, we saw Chamberlain’s best game in a long while for Arsenal. They key for me was that he was playing in the middle of the park. He just looked so more comfortable than out on the wing.
His best performance to date was now nearly 4 years ago, in a Champions League performance against AC Milan. Remembering back to that game, Oxlade-Chamberlain played in the middle of the park. He was dynamic and he was direct.
At the time, people will talking him up. “A gem of a player” Marco van Basten said. There was talk that he could be the new Steven Gerrard. With his dynamism, passing ability and shooting from distance.
Since that performance. He has stalled. And when he plays on the wing, he looks average.
For England he always looks a much better player. Looking through where he plays for his country, it always seems to be in the middle of the park, or on the left with the licence to drift in. When he plays wide right, he just does not look good enough.
He is just more comfortable in the middle of the park.
The problem at Arsenal is we have a lot of central midfielders. Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla. All are about him in the pecking order. But he offers something different to all 4 of those with his ability to run with the ball. With Cazorla slowly coming to the end of his career, Chamberlain is perhaps the closest to being his replacement.
There is definitely a good player in Chamberlain waiting to break out. He is two footed, has some pace, and can beat a man with ease – a commodity that is rare in football. Jose Mourinho always talks about transitional players. Who can take the ball comfortable through areas of the pitch. From defence into midfield, midfield into attack, breaking the lines. Oxlade-Chamberlain certainly falls into this category. He just needs the chance. The luck. To get a run in the centre of the park.