Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain delivered his best performance in a Liverpool shirt during the Reds’ victory over West Ham United at the weekend. Jurgen Klopp’s side were superb and ran out 4-1 winners, a result that led to the sacking of Slaven Bilic. It would be easy to concentrate on the failures of the Hammers, but the visitors were excellent and it was a much-needed result to send them back into contention in the top six. A title push is beyond them as they are already 12 points behind Manchester City, but they will want to consolidate their position in the top four.
The recruitment during the summer was widely criticised by pundits and supporters alike, as the club failed to sign a defender. There was a lot of interest in Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk, but they couldn’t get a deal done and they were left short as they didn’t have any alternatives lined up. As a £35 million signing, there was pressure on Oxlade-Chamberlain to make an immediate impact and he didn’t do that.
The season started well for the midfielder, as he starred during Arsenal’s opening day victory over Leicester City. Although he didn’t contribute a goal or an assist, he was excellent in both halves of the pitch. During the match, he completed two key passes, eight dribbles, three tackles and three interceptions. In addition to these, he attempted six shots on goal and won three aerial duels.
Oxlade-Chamberlain looked motivated and in hindsight, it is clear that he was playing for a transfer away from the club. Arsene Wenger was keen to keep him at the club and said the following on the 24th August, which was a last-ditch attempt to convince him to stay at the Emirates Stadium:
“He is one of the players the team needs to be built around. I want him to commit to the club. I want to keep my best players. I want to keep everyone on board. For me they have a responsibility to the club. I am highly determined to keep him.”
Last season at Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain always stood out as the player working tirelessly for the team and acted as a leader at times. It was crucial for the Gunners to keep him, but they were punished for their appalling control over contracts. They let the deals of several notable first-team players enter the final year and at that stage, it is the individuals that have control over their future. Chelsea were in the race to sign him, but the 24-year-old was only interested in a move to Anfield and that was completed on deadline day. In an Instagram post, he commented on his reason for his decision.
“I know my choice might come as a surprise to many, and the decision to leave was tough after being a part of the club for so many years, but I feel that this move is right for the next stage in my ongoing development,”
There was a lot of scepticism about where he would fit in at Liverpool, but he has been at Arsenal since he was a teenager and he still wasn’t a regular starter. At the beginning of the season, he was used at right wing-back and left wing-back. These weren’t the positions that he wanted to be operating in and that was motivation for the transfer.
How has he fared at Liverpool?
It has been a slow adjustment period for the 24-year-old as he has mainly been used as a substitute. He has started three matches for the club, but only one of those came in the Premier League, which was at the weekend against West Ham. A lot of supporters were surprised to see him on the team-sheet. However, Jurgen Klopp felt it was the right time to bring him in and he delivered a very good display.
The England international was started as part of a front four alongside Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane. It was a very fluid role, as he could be seen taking up central areas behind the front three and interchanging with each of them as the match progressed. The midfielder’s versatility suits Liverpool’s system well as Klopp likes his team to be fluid and Oxlade-Chamberlain is capable of switching roles during the match depending on the positions of his team-mates.
During the match, he worked hard and pressed well from the front, which is an important part of Liverpool’s system. In his substitute appearances, there were signs that he wasn’t quite at the level required in this part of his game, but it clicked against West Ham. He completed three ball recoveries and made one clearance to ease the pressure on his team.
In attack, he showed intelligent movement to find space in dangerous areas and he managed to score his first Premier League goal for the club. He got the ball in the penalty area and reacted well after his initial shot was saved by Joe Hart. It would have been a relief to have got that particular monkey off his back. The goal came at an important time immediately after West Ham had equalised. Oxlade-Chamberlain made two key passes in the match and looked at home within the Liverpool attack.
Oxlade-Chamberlain won’t start every week, as Liverpool have good options in attack and midfield. Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson will return at some stage, but the intensity of the team means that rotation will be required. On Saturday, the 24-year-old was fielded in a position that played to his strengths. It suited him down to the ground, as he could get into central areas to influence the game and interchange with the forwards.
On joining the club, the midfielder stated his desire to play in a central role and Saturday showed that it could be where his long-term future lies.