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Why will 2016/17 be a big campaign for Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?

The career of Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has somewhat stagnated of late. A knee injury against Barcelona in February 2016 kept him out of England’s Euro 2016 squad, but even before receiving such a blow, the 22-year-old had found himself slipping down the pecking order at the Emirates, with only 20 appearances in all competitions in the 2013/14 season for the Gunners, and a further 37 the following year.

He made 32 appearances last campaign before his injury, but the goals have dried up – the England international unable to find the net once in 2015/16. Now, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has announced the magnitude of the next 12 months for the young winger, declaring 2016/17 an “important” season for the player after having overcome his knee injury.

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Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown glimpses of the potential he has displayed in the past this pre-season, promise which earned him his £12 million move to Arsenal from Southampton back in the summer of 2011. He showcased his talent with a fine solo goal against Mexican side Chivas de Guadalajara in Los Angeles on the club’s pre-season tour of the US, and Wenger’s comments indicate he has to keep showing such form if he is to force his way back into the first-team picture at Arsenal.

“It is a very important season for him. He has been out for a very, very long time”, Arsene Wenger told BBC Sport.

However, the “power and penetration” that Wenger also referred to from the player epitomises Oxlade-Chamberlain’s strength and direct style. The player certainly has the capability to play at the highest level, having graced the international stage and the Champions League, but sometimes seems to lack self-belief.

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Wenger continued: “He has it all, which is why I’d like him to get to the level he can go to.”

“Maybe he doesn’t completely believe himself how good he can be and that’s the final step for him”.

The belief will return after a run of games, and it will benefit the player further if he finds himself amongst the goals again. Goals have given the youngster the confidence to go on and show his potential, proven by his rise to form after his Premier League brace against Blackburn Rovers back in February 2012, in a 7-1 win. Back then, he was 18-years old, young and had a licence to try anything audacious given his age. Now 22, four years later, he must step up and fulfil his potential.

The biggest challenge will be maintaining his fitness. So many promising Arsenal players have joined the list of injury-prone talents who have been somewhat wasted over recent years. Robin Van Persie was a superb servant for Arsenal, but only really maintained his fitness for one season – 2011/12. He won the golden boot on that occasion, then left for Manchester United.

Jack Wilshere; one of England’s most influential young midfielders when fit, but constantly out on the sidelines. Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott: another two who have spent an extended spell out of the side through injury. Danny Welbeck has succumbed to two long-term injuries since his Arsenal career began and remains on the sidelines until the New Year.

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If Oxlaide-Chamberlain can show the form of which he is capable, it is justifiable to believe that his luck will prevail and that unlike others at Arsenal, he can avoid being plagued by injury.

Having been on the wrong end of injuries and finding his first-team opportunities limited by the form of Arsenal’s other wide players, the onus is now on the youngster to put his injury troubles and lack of form behind him in order to force himself back into the first-team.

Time on the treatment table has been commonplace at Arsenal in recent memory, and with some of Arsenal’s more ageing contingency in Walcott beginning to fade, Oxlade-Chamberlain must use his age to his advantage and press his case for a place in the team, or face a future away from the Emirates. There are other promising young players in Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi coming to the fore who have proven they are more than equipped to step into his place if required.

If Oxlade-Chamberlain can use Arsenal’s depleted squad situation to his advantage, even when The Gunners’ treatment room finally empties and the squad returns to full fitness, he may prove very difficult to dislodge. In order to that, he must show consistency. Goals for England including a header against the Scots and a stunning goal in the Maracana against Brazil have shown what the winger is capable of, but he has only shown his raw talent in fits and starts.

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He is not yet in his prime, but he is edging ever closer, and if he wishes to continue featuring at the highest level for a club of Arsenal’s magnitude, he would do well to heed his gaffer’s comments.

2016/17 will be the biggest year in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Arsenal career, and he must use it as a springboard in order to cement his place at the Emirates and put his name in the mind of new England boss Sam Allardyce at international level.

If Oxlade-Chamberlain fails to impress, then he faces an uncertain future as he will surely fade back into obscurity. The outcome is down to him.

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