It would be fair to say that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is at a crossroads in his career. Tipped to be the next big thing thanks to his stellar performances at Southampton, there is a sense that he has not quite excelled as much since his £15 million move to Arsenal in 2011. Glimpses of his ability have been shown. However, one would argue that nine goals and 15 assists in just over six Premier League seasons tells its own story.
Why Arsenal Should Keep Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Oxlade-Chamberlain has been the suspect of much transfer speculation this summer. Rumours have been increasingly spreading that the 24-year-old is upset over his role in the Arsenal side. This is coupled with their lack of competition for the major trophies in recent years. As a result, Chelsea are said to be vying for his signature.
It has been reported this week that Oxlade-Chamberlain is due to meet the Arsenal board to discuss and hopefully finalise his future, which has been deeply uncertain throughout the whole summer. It could well be that the England man will tell the club that he intends on leaving but perhaps a bigger issue is whether or not Arsenal should let him go. After all, the final decision is theirs.
His Role At Arsenal
As mentioned before, when it comes to goals and assists, the stats are not flattering for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Such is his undoubted ability on the ball, one would be disappointed to not see better returns. Even a steady improvement in that department would suffice. So in that sense, Arsenal would not be losing much if they decided to cash in.
But a deeper look into Oxlade-Chamberlain’s role in the Arsenal side over the last year or two gives us a better sense of why a club like Chelsea are interested in paying as much as £35 million for his services. One of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s several strengths is his versatility. Over the period listed above, Arsenal have played the former Southampton man at right and left wing-back, centre midfield, centre attacking midfield and on the right and left wings in attack.
Versatility Is Key
Indeed, towards the end of last season, Oxlade-Chamberlain starred in the left wing-back role. This kept Arsenal’s two main left-backs, Nacho Monreal and Kieran Gibbs, out of that position. The move was justified as he mightily impressed in both the FA Cup final and Community Shield wins over Chelsea at Wembley, using his excellent engine and pace to cause problems down the flanks.
This season, Arsenal have moved Oxlade-Chamberlain across the pitch to right wing-back and his performances have failed to wane. He has completed 15 take-ons so far this campaign, more than any other player. Oxlade-Chamberlain has also had the second most shots in the league (nine). This emphasises his attacking threat going forward in the wing-back role.
“I rate him highly and he’s one of the players who is on his way up,’ said manager Arsenal Wenger when questioned on Oxlade-Chamberlain after the win against Leicester on the first day of the new season. “In the last year, he has made huge progress and I want him to stay here for a long time. I’m convinced he will be the English player that everybody will look at in the next two years.”
Wenger certainly believes in him and perhaps more Arsenal fans should too. Despite the result against Stoke, Oxlade-Chamberlain was one of the few positives to come out of the match. He made eight attacking runs and the same number of crosses, the most of anyone on the pitch. In addition, he completed three key passes, the joint-second most, behind only Mesut Ozil.
Better Defensively Than Attacking?
His progression in the wing-back role is there to see. His ability to play in the centre of midfield can not be underestimated either. He stepped into the role midway through last season due to Arsenal being short in midfield players. His displays offered plenty of room for comfort, too. Against Southampton in the FA Cup and versus Hull in the league, in particular, he demonstrated excellent passing ability and composure on the ball. This would often drive the team from the centre of the pitch.
Due to his profligacy in front of goal, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s displays may be numbered when it comes to playing in attacking midfield. He is, however fast proving a valuable asset at wing-back and in centre midfield. And given that he is indeed only 24-years-old, his best years are yet ahead of him. His progress does, though, feel like a slow burner at times.
A Statement Of Intent
So do Arsenal need to keep him? The wise answer would be yes. The prospect of several key departures, not least star man Alexis Sanchez, has been following the club all summer. Keeping Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, would be a statement of intent that they are willing to at least challenge for the title this season. Not only that, but Oxlade-Chamberlain is part of Arsenal’s ‘British core’. Selling one of their better performers, especially to a major rival, would further dent the Gunners’ chances of being competitive in the near future.
Wenger has maintained over the last two or three years and particularly strongly this summer that Arsenal are no longer in a position where the club needs to sell its best players. And his stance is unlikely to change unless a huge big comes in for one of his key performers.
Wenger believes Oxlade-Chamberlain will only get better and it would be hard to argue why. The England man can frustrate at times but his recent displays in a number of positions have underlined his value to the Arsenal cause. And given such improvement, Chamberlain would be a man worth holding to.
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