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England’s Player to Watch: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was left shell shocked when he made his Arsenal debut just over 9 months ago – in the 8-2 thrashing at Manchester United.

He was shocked again at the beginning of May but for a very different reason,  this time he was being called up by Roy Hodgson for England’s Euro 2012 23 man squad.

The attacking midfielder, who has come to be known as ‘the Ox’ is the exciting pick in the Three Lion’s squad. His selection for the national squad simply caps a fantastic rise to fame since signing for £12 million from Southampton last summer.

Before England’s recently friendlies, Theo Walcott was the only player who Chamberlain actually knew. He is often compared to his Arsenal team-mate. Walcott featured in the 2006 World Cup squad but never actually got a kick of the ball.

Granted when he was chosen, Walcott had never played in a Premier League game for Arsenal, but at least the Ox has 26 appearances under his belt, even if 11 were as a sub.

Chamberlain’s first two caps for England have suggested he could give the team the unpredictability they need at Euro 2012.

Against Belgium, the roar which accompanied Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first scampering run after six minutes was instantaneous and sustained and reverberated around Wembley like a wave of optimism.

In a way that is what it was. Optimism that in an 18-year-old with a handful of Premier League starts England have found a player with the skill and guile to provide penetration to an otherwise pedestrian midfield.

While Danny Welbeck’s opening goal was reward for quick thinking by Ashley Young and an exquisite chipped finish, in truth England supplied few moments of creativity. This is the key reason Oxlade-Chamberlain is perfect for the side, even at the age of 18 he is worth the gamble of a starting slot at Euro 2012.

Along with Welbeck he was England’s one bright spark in a first half dominated, despite the scoreline, by Belgium’s superior technique. He was lively and full of tricks and fluid movement although, admittedly, he did fade amid a Belgium onslaught in the second half, eventually being substituted after 66 minutes by Theo Walcott.

In my opinion, Oxlade-Chamberlain did enough in his cameo role against Norway last week and against Belgium at Wembley to suggest he is ready.

Of course, it is unlikely England are going to win Euro 2012. They are a work in progress. They lack that cohesion and creativity. They are not going to open up Europe’s top sides at will, but Chamberlain is exactly the type of player English fans have been wishing for, for several years now. Like Rooney back in 2004, when he scored 4 goals in the competition as an 18-year-old. The Arsenal midfielder will look to have the same impact, this would undeniably kick-start his footballing career with a bang.