Potential could very well be the most frivolously used word in modern football, particularly when concerning young English footballers. You don’t have to look far to find the ‘next Ronaldo’ or the ‘next Messi’ – so how does a footballer avoid a fate similar to the once lauded Bojan Krkić?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a young player who has not managed to play 30 games in any of his 4 seasons in Arsenal’s first team, might be asking himself just that. Although an injury-plagued career is not uncommon at Arsenal Football Club, the Ox might be becoming increasingly concerned at his position in Wenger’s improving squad.
Since joining the Gunners for £12 million in 2011, the England International has been injured for a combined 359 days, which has not only affected his progress, but also his pecking order in his berth of positions. When fit, Chamberlain has proved his brilliance on a consistent basis for both club and country, however, his lack of availability has hindered his chance of securing a place in either team.
Particularly at Arsenal, the Ox has become something of a luxury to Arsène Wenger, a player he can use to plug the holes left by other absentees, but while improving his versatility, this inclusion is also preventing the player from becoming a vital part of a first eleven.
Take this season for example, the Englishmen has played 13 times as an Attacking Midfielder (Right), four times as a Right Midfielder and six times in a central midfield role, even performing well as a part of a defensive structure.
While other examples of versatile English players James Milner and Wayne Rooney have been ever present for their teams, albeit in any position, Chamberlain hasn’t and has been left on the bench for 9 of the 30 games he’s been available for.
The question at hand, ‘Can Oxlade-Chamberlain fulfil his potential at Arsenal?’ is particularly pertinent at the time of the rumoured swap deal Chelsea have offered Arsenal, seeing the young talent going the opposite way to Petr Čech. Although Wenger himself no doubt sees the deal as laughable, it must spark imagination in Chamberlain’s thoughts considering he is not currently held in Wenger’s first eleven.
Chamberlain needs to play games at 21-years-old, and if that will be at Arsenal, which looks almost certain, then he needs to claim a position for his own – most logically on the right of the attack.
Something which might add encouragement is the revelation that the last three months out that Chamberlain has endured, have actually been spent weaning the England forward off of painkillers that he has been taking for the last few years in order to cope with long-term injuries. Chamberlain himself admitted that he had forgotten what it felt like to play without pain, and given this successful period, this only offers optimism to the Oxlade-Chamerlain cause.
Despite it probably always being the case with young footballers, the coming season will definitely prove to be the most decisive in Chamberlain’s career so far.
Not receiving a phone call from Gareth Southgate to join the U21 squad could prove to be a blessing for the Ox as he can now concentrate on the unenviable task of trumping the likes of Walcott, Özil and Ramsey in the Arsenal squad.
Chamberlain has the quality and the time he needs to make it to the top, however, he needs to act fast if he’s going to make it there with Arsenal.
Despite being one of the best talents in both England and Arsenal’s squad, the winger is becoming forgettable, and that definitely needs to change. Lets hope that this new year is the year of the Ox.