Def’n: “a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction”
As is the case so often with Arsenal players, it’s easy to forget how young Alex Oxlade Chamberlain actually is. He’s been with the club for four years now, and after signing in 2011 for somewhere in the region of £12 million, it would be easy to guess he was somewhere in his mid-twenties given how familiar we’ve become with having him around. In fact he just turned 22 a couple of months ago.
Possessing an explosive, precocious talent, the Ox combines his unquestionable potential with a fun-loving, charismatic attitude and an infectious grin. He’s universally well liked throughout the squad, as well as the England squad, and to a large extent seems able to maintain a level head in the often surreal media puppet show that surrounds the modern day Premier League. This is perhaps due to the fact that he was born into the game, his father Mark having had a twenty year playing career culminating in eight full England caps and his uncle Neville also having played professionally for more than a decade.
At times, Alex looks unplayable, his combination of pace, power and technical ability merging into a full back’s bad dream. He’s a courageous player, always looking to create something positive going forward, and his forthright, bloody-minded desire to move the ball aggressively towards the opposition byline or goal is often refreshing when juxtaposed with Arsenal’s often more circuitous attacking play. At the same time he’s able to link up well with teammates and engage in the intricacies of the Wengerball pass-and-move paradigm. He links up well with right-backs – notably, for example, when he’s played with Debuchy in a pairing which has been unfortunate not to see more game time. And when he wants to, he can get stuck in and make some very useful tackles.
For all of the positives that one can attribute with his game, it’s been the Ox who has floundered the most of all the squad so far this year. The team on the whole has started the season pretty positively. Yes we’ve lost a couple of games we shouldn’t have, but form has been improving and the multitude of chances we’ve been creating have started finding their way into the back of the net even if some of them have been more fortuitous than others (recent example: The Hand of Giroud). Sanchez’s form the last few weeks has been scintillating, and even the most stubbornly pessimistic and critical of Arsenal fans have started to recognise the string-pulling genius we have in Mesut Ozil.
Oxlade himself started the season pretty brightly, with some eye-catching pre-season games. He looked sharp and strong, and ready to make the right wing spot his own. Since then however, his form has dipped somewhat. He’s attempting only half as many dribbles per appearance as last year, and while he’s generally maintained his positive attacking outlook, he’s too often been at fault defensively. He’s given the ball away cheaply in dangerous positions a number of times – something that all of our midfield are sometimes culpable of due to our continued (and, admittedly, increasingly effective) insistence on playing the ball out of our own half. His passing in general has been noticeably out of sorts lately both for England and for Arsenal and his defensive contributions have at times seemed a bit cursory and superficial for someone who’s a well-built lad.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s easy to forget how young Alex actually is, and one of the most consistent factors with young players is their lack of consistency, no matter the underlying level of talent and potential. The fantastic work rate of Aaron Ramsey (the numbers on his running yesterday were bonkers – check out 7am KO’s as-always-great analysis on Arseblog here), and Wenger’s determination to keep Ramsey in the side regardless of position, have coincided with Alex’s dip in form and kept him out of the side. While it’s obviously a massive pity to see Ramsey consigned to the sidelines with his hamstring injury so soon after breaking his goal scoring duck, it does provide a massive opportunity for the Ox to showcase his bombastic range of abilities. Let’s hope that he takes that opportunity and shows us exactly what he’s capable of.