The surprising news has emerged from the England camp that Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be starting for England against France, rather than Stewart Downing as had been expected (and feared). Optimism has been abound, if only for the fact that it means Downing won’t start, but it’s also puzzling to see Chamberlain’s Arsenal team-mate Theo Walcott miss out, although he hasn’t figured much under Roy Hodgson.
Ever since ‘The Ox’ impressed for Southampton in the FA Cup against Manchester United, and then later got a big money move to Arsenal in the summer, it’s been a non-stop hype-fest around him. Piers Morgan has been one of the main culprits, incessantly campaigning for him to be thrown in the deep end. Arsene Wenger, however, knew better.
We all saw what happened to Walcott when he was compared to Thierry Henry, and we ought to be wary of this before we begin expecting a similar contribution from Chamberlain to that of Gascoigne and Rooney in tournaments past. However, Roy Hodgson seems less concerned with easing Chamberlain in (although he made appearances in a couple of friendlies for England) and if the speculation is correct will start with the 18-year-old on the left flank up against Mathieu Debuchy. Debuchy, who has been linked with a move to Newcastle, replaces the injured Bacary Sagna in the French defence, and won’t be as familiar with Chamberlain as Sagna would have been.
With all of the building up of the potential of Chamberlain, it’s easy to forget that it’s just that: potential
It’s important to remember that despite impressive showings against Blackburn and Manchester United at the Emirates – among others – Chamberlain has still been inconsistent for Arsenal. He struggled against Chelsea for one, and when he came on against Wigan he tried to do too much; constantly running into dead ends and giving the ball away.
With all of the building up of the potential of Chamberlain, it’s easy to forget that it’s just that: potential. He’s by no means the finished article. On the other hand, one thing he’s sure to have is a freedom and a willingness to impress, just as Gazza & Wazza did in tournaments gone by, as well as Michael Owen. England have often profited from an enthusiastic young starlet looking to make an impression on the European and world stage, and Hodgson will be quietly hoping for a similar impact from the boy from Portsmouth.
An advantage Chamberlain has over Walcott, who also found himself thrown in at the deep end for England, is his upper body strength – he’s shown he’s able to out-muscle many a defender, and will look to use that power, combined with his explosive pace, to exploit the French defence, especially as it has been criticised for lacking in mobility.
He’ll be eager to impress and won’t shy away from an opportunity
Furthermore, and unlike Walcott, he’s shown he does not get over-awed by the occasion. His first appearance for Arsenal was off the bench at Old Trafford, and he wasn’t scared to demand the ball. Later he was the Gunners’ man of the match against the Red Devils at the Emirates, out-shining Walcott, and grabbing an assist for Robin van Persie’s equaliser.
His most exciting performance, however, came on one of the biggest stages against AC Milan. In Arsenal’s home leg as they looked to over-turn a 4-0 deficit, injuries meant that he started in a deep central midfield position – not unfamiliar to him, but something Arsene Wenger had been reluctant to do. He was comfortable in possession, put in some excellent tackles, and stormed up the pitch to win a penalty from a superb run.
Understandably he tired towards the end, but he had already made his mark; Hodgson went on to cite this note-worthy performance as a reason for why he had picked the youngster, although at the time it had seemed like he was simply a wildcard option from the bench.
Now it seems as if he’ll be playing against France for England, and the appearance will cap a whirlwind year for the midfielder. With the Three Lions struggling to create under Hodgson, and Ashley Young shouldering most of the attacking burden, Chamberlain will be a major outlet going forward. It’s difficult to tell whether he’ll benefit from this extra responsibility, but he’ll be eager to impress and won’t shy away from an opportunity.
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