Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s performances in recent weeks have been a true microcosm of his promising and yet somewhat underwhelming career, to date.
His showing against a depleted Manchester United side was something to savour. Once again, he excelled in his newly adopted right wing-back role, providing a sublime assist for Danny Welbeck to double the Gunners’ lead.
He was more than a match for the attacking flair of Anthony Martial and latterly, Jesse Lingard; a clean sheet the perfect barometer of a man who is maturing in a defensive role. In general, this was a comprehensive exhibition not dissimilar to his outing in the FA Cup semi-final
Against Manchester City, he was imperious. A man of the match performance illustrating all the qualities which marked him out as a prodigy in his younger years. He was tenacious in attacking situations, providing the assist for ‘seasoned finisher’, Nacho Monreal.
He also provided a defensive stability, matching the ever-threatening Leroy Sane for pace and remaining unperturbed by the German’s trickery.
Though Hector Bellerin has not been himself in recent weeks (not to mention the haircut), he is still an accomplished right back who is finding his position under considerable threat.
These performances were almost a carbon copy of one another. Unfortunately, this consistency was not displayed at White Hart Lane…
Enter Tottenham. The frustration that many Arsenal fans experience when watching Chamberlain was painfully evident. Now, Spurs have been simply stunning in recent weeks but even in spite of this, the 23-year-old was hapless.
Going forward was a rarity for the team as a whole and he did little to threaten the solid Tottenham backline, when he was provided the opportunity to do so.
His end product weak and often, predictable. He was caught out in defensive situations and looked truly awkward when attempting a goal line clearance.
For a two-footed footballer, it seemed almost baffling to lead with your right foot at such a time.
Football craves consistency and this seems to be an enigma for ‘The Ox’.
It does seem slightly cruel to judge a player too harshly when he is out of his desired position. His reaction to being employed regularly in this defensive area was met with a rye smile after the end of the FA Cup semi-final.
Evidently, Chamberlain has designs on playing in a central attacking role, which requires more creativity and less discipline. He’s certainly a player who seems to be more dynamic when looking forward.
Yet, does he deserve this opportunity? Yes he has suffered his fair share of injuries, as is the custom with any Gunner, but his propensity to throw in a dire display remains an ever-present threat.
His sporadic flashes of genius seems to be increasing in number and yet, abject performances are still commonplace. While he has talked a good talk in recent months, this does not seem to always be replicated on the pitch. In a team desperate for Champions League football, he does not seem to provide the maturity and guarantee that many others could.
The golden boy of 2013 is now 23. With his North London counterpart Mr. Alli demonstrating astonishing ability and a warranted arrogance in equal measure, Chamberlain threatens to fall into the ‘what could have been’ category.
It would seem foolish to discount him entirely. He has played more minutes this season than in any previous Premier League campaign. Furthermore, he has helped play a part in more goals than in any previous season. If you were to map his progress it would show an upward trajectory, unfortunately it is not exponential like many would have hoped.
In a society in which blame culture is rife, could some of the criticism be leveled at Wenger? The Frenchman has not afforded him much time in his preferred position and this might well have contributed to stunted growth. In a results driven business though, can he really be blamed if a stellar performance is by no means a guarantee?
Wenger has placed on record that he wants Chamberlain to be part of the Arsenal setup for the next ten years. The manager clearly sees something in ‘The Ox’ and wants to exploit that. With Liverpool sniffing around, Wenger is adamant that the man from Portsmouth still has a pivotal part to play.
Next season will surely be make or break for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. At 24 you are no longer considered as a raw talent but an established Premier League player. If he doesn’t set the Emirates alight, would it really be such a loss if he were to leave the Gunners?