Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain spent most of last season either on the bench - with Piers Morgan tweeting into overdrive about how “The Ox should start”, ignoring his show’s rapidly dwindling ratings in order to criticise The Gunners' greatest ever manager – or flying up and down the wing. However, his future is very much in central midfield.
Arsène Wenger sees it that way too – he’s quoted a couple of times as saying that he sees Chamberlain as a future centre midfielder, but we all know how Wenger likes to play players out of position; just see his use of Nicklas Bendtner as a winger for an example.
While it’s easy to point and laugh at this use of players in unnatural positions, it actually offers a further football education and helps his players develop different skills and become more rounded players. The wing has been Wenger’s favourite place to play players before he thinks they’re ready for a more prominent role – it’s the easiest place to accommodate a passenger.
Piers Morgan tweeted into overdrive about how “The Ox should start”, ignoring his show’s rapidly dwindling ratings
Wenger often spoke earlier in the season of Oxlade-Chamberlain needing to work on the defensive side of his game, as well as his stamina, and the former is one he can improve during games without it being too detrimental to the team if he struggles in that aspect.
Chamberlain was thrown into the metaphorical deep end in midfield against AC Milan of all teams, due to an injury crisis in the centre of the park for Arsenal. He had to play in a deep role alongside Alex Song, who has become known for his forays forward and lack of discipline in the side, and the ex-Southampton youngster excelled.
So much so that Roy Hodgson was later convinced to take him to Euro 2012 on the evidence of that performance – although Hodgson cited the way Chamberlain dealt with Pirlo and Ambrosini in the match, and neither of the two actually played; the former was playing for Juventus too, so Hodgson’s memory of the match may not be that reliable.
Walcott seems shy and timid on the pitch, and can seem over-awed at times. Chamberlain on the other hand seems unfazed by the massive players
Hodgson was right though – Chamberlain had a superb game, with industrious work from deep, making driving runs while showcasing an impressive range of passing. He had a direct involvement in two of Arsenal’s three goals, swinging in a corner for Laurent Koscielny to head home the opener before going on an incredible run into the penalty area to win a spot-kick which Robin van Persie converted.
Arsène Wenger’s prodigy is by no means the finished article though. In addition to obvious things like defensive nous and stamina that need to be improved, as well as experience and composure which will come with time, there are also flaws to his game which need changing. For example, he often charges down blind alleys and gives the ball away simply.
As an 18-year-old, Chamberlain’s exact style is yet to be decided. He seems too attacking to be box-to-box, yet not creative enough to be a playmaker.
Comparisons with Theo Walcott are still on-going, but as Arsène Wenger pointed out, there are lots of differences. Not only future positions and playing style, as well as physique, but mentality – Walcott seems shy and timid on the pitch, and can seem over-awed at times. Chamberlain on the other hand seems unfazed by the massive players – in status and stature.
As an 18-year-old, Chamberlain’s exact style is yet to be decided. He’s shown similar traits to the likes of Steven Gerrard, but also to Wayne Rooney, so it remains to be seen what type of central midfielder he’ll be. He seems too attacking to be box-to-box, yet not creative enough to be a playmaker.
Naturally, that will become clearer with time, but it’s obvious that Arsène Wenger sees him as a midfielder, and as he’s the man that transformed Thierry Henry from something of an erratic winger into one of the greatest strikers the Premier League has ever seen, it’s worth trusting the Frenchman’s judgement.
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