Arsenal's Oxlade-Chamberlain Was England's Man Of The Match In San Marino Demolition
It’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions in such a non-contest as England’s drubbing of San Marino on Friday night, but there are undoubtedly some positives to be taken.
Regardless of the fact the opposition was, in terms of quality, the slightest of step-ups from my old Sunday League team, scoring eight goals against anybody has to be considered a good night’s work. The goals, as well as being plentiful, were varied and pleasing for the aesthetes amongst us.
If nothing else it was refreshing to see total domination from England when they’re so often on the receiving end of a severe footballing lesson. In terms of individual performances, it’d be hyperbolic to thrust too much praise on players in such a ridiculously one-sided game, but Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did catch the eye.
It was important for the teenager, seemingly ubiquitously now known as ‘The Ox’, to put on a good display after something of an underwhelming season so far. Even that seems too harsh a criticism. Oxlade-Chamberlain has seldom turned in a bad performance, but just hasn’t lit up games in the same way he did at the back end of the previous season; with his gargantuan performance in central midfield against AC Milan particularly springing to mind.
Being in and out of the Gunners side probably hasn’t helped with his lack of consistency, neither has the typically excessive levels of pressure and expectation lumped on his shoulders. We’ve seen it with Wayne Rooney and Theo Walcott and will probably see it in the future with Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling.
The press, and most people in general, have an irritating tendency to get too excited and ultimately carried away when any promising young English players bursts onto the scene. They expect 9/10 performances every week and often it looks like the player has underperformed when that fails to materialise when, in reality, it’s just a natural part of the learning curve.
I digress. Oxlade-Chamberlain managed to stand out in the demolition of San Marino by both scoring and assisting in an accomplished display. The confidence with which he directly ran at players was encouraging and reminiscent of his 2012 Arsenal form. So often confidence is the most important asset a player can possess and the fearless nature of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s game, when at his best as he was last night, is what makes him a potential match winner.
He demonstrated pace, trickery and intelligence in the move which culminated in his goal, England’s second of the night, taking on a couple of San Marino defenders, then playing a smart one-two with Wayne Rooney before lashing the ball home with his weaker left foot. Naturally, he won’t be afforded such space to work in against superior opposition but it was good to see that explosive spark back in his game.
It was his header that set up the next goal, a tap-in for Jermain Defoe, and he was involved in the Spurs striker’s second of the game as well; clipping a fine ball over the top which Kyle Walker ran onto and cut back for his teammate.
Oxlade-Chamberlain also hit the bar early on and looked comfortable with the ball at his feet throughout the 90 minutes, fizzing a few excellent cross-field passes into the path of Leighton Baines, who was also excellent – though admittedly relieved of his defensive duties and given the freedom to wreak havoc on the left flank.
The 19-year-old has almost certainly played himself into the side that will face Montenegro on Tuesday, the game that England players will probably shamelessly admit has always been their primary focus. A result there would do wonders for confidence, as it would leave Roy Hodgson’s side top of Group H with four games remaining – three of them at home.
Arsenal fans will be hoping this will be the start of a sustained run of form for The Ox, who will most likely be asked to step up in the absence of Walcott as we approach the oh-so-clichéd business end of the season. He’ll have to prove himself against more respectable opponents but it’s certainly a good start and hopefully a sign of things to come.