Connect in the back of the net

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, otherwise known as “The Ox” is one of the more puzzling players at Arsenal.

An impressive feat for a team full of puzzle pieces.

What is he? A left midfielder? An attacking midfielder? A right wing back? A central midfielder? I don’t think he, himself knows. I don’t think Arsene Wenger knows. I don’t think anyone knows.

Let’s take a look back at the trajectory of the Ox and pickup where we find ourselves now.

 

Beginnings

Born to former professional footballer Mark Chamberlain. The Ox comes from an athletic family. His uncle and brother are former and current professional footballers as well.

At the ripe age of seven, the Ox joined Southampton. By age fifteen he was on the first team…….Yada-Yada-Yada (zzzzzzz) we’ve been here before.

Extremely talented youngster gets spotted by club known for youth development. Said player dominates the youth ranks and quickly gets promoted to first team football.

After one flying season at the top flight, it’s off to the big bucks, Champions League, London nightclubs, and Ibiza for vacation. Then you eventually end up as Gareth Bale or playing Sunday league football. The Ox is somewhere in the middle.

 

Start at Arsenal

He came to Arsenal as an attacking midfielder and that’s undoubtedly where he played at Southampton. Unsurprisingly at Arsenal he’s played in the same position, for the most part.

Normally managers find ways to ease their youngsters into top-flight football by playing them in the League Cup or subbing them on in matches that are done and dusted. Wenger did none of that.

What better way to make your Premier League debut than an 8-2 away defeat at Old Trafford?

So it began, the tale of the Ox… a strong and mighty warrior…

 

Odd stint so far

Well, it’s been odd. Firstly, he’s an incredible athlete. He seems like the type who could have gone pro in just about any sport he put his mind to.

Supposedly he had cricket and rugby trials, but Southampton prevented him from going. You don’t get the nickname “The Ox” for no reason. He’s fast, powerful, and strong.

Often times rather than outwitting his opponents, he seems to simply overwhelm them with athleticism by blowing past them or shouldering them off the ball.

I mean he’s nicknamed “The Ox” for Christ’s sake!

However, that’s not to say he isn’t skilled. I distinctly remember him cleverly dribbling through the United defense to set up Nacho Monreal’s goal against Manchester United in the 2014 FA Cup quarter-final.

 

Biggest issues

The biggest problems with the Ox’s Arsenal career has been consistency and production.

He’s got nine goals for Arsenal. The same amount he scored for Southampton in one season as a teenager. Granted, that was League One football.

But still, you expect someone playing in his position and with the amount of appearances (194) he’s made, he would have scored more goals.

Here in lies the problem with the Ox. He’ll produce a blindingly quick and powerful run up the wing, beating three defenders only to be finished with a moon shot over the bar. It’s frustrating, because the talent is all there.

That end product is the most difficult part of an attacker’s game. Once the goals starting coming however, they usually stay.

 

His most productive campaign yet

Despite these shortcomings, the Ox had his most prolific season for Arsenal last year with six goals and eleven assists in all competitions, not bad.

Following his best season for the club, his future at it has never been more unsure. Liverpool are reportedly interested in prying the Ox away from north London as his contract talks with Arsenal stall.

In addition, Oxlade-Chamberlain was played at several positions last season in a role one could define as a “utility man”.

Is that a sign of an extremely versatile player or one who doesn’t excel at any specific position?

 

Versatile

For most of his career he’s been an attacking midfielder, mainly on the left hand side. He’s capable of playing on the right as well.

At times, Wenger has inserted him into a central midfield role. Most notably in the Champions League two seasons ago when Arsenal crumbled at home against Monaco.

Wenger has stated his interest in moving him to the central position full time, but he hasn’t really followed up on that idea.

Even England manager Gareth Southgate played him there in their recent friendly against France. The Ox struggled in that match, but I’ve seen him boss the center of the pitch before.

 

Excelling in an unfamiliar position

When Arsenal finally found some form at the end of season, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka were the central midfield partnership. And rightly so, they were very solid together.

In the absence of first choice right back Hector Bellerin due to injury, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain filled in at the right wing back position. He excelled.

His pace, strength, and athleticism constantly saw him overtake opponents down the flank. His defending was surprisingly good for someone who isn’t an experienced defender.

Could that defending last over the course of a full season? Hard to say.

To top it all off, his service was excellent.

His “pièce de résistance” was his cross against Manchester City in the semi-final of the FA Cup at Wembley. He whipped a superb cross in from the right flank and Nacho Monreal flew in from the left side to bury it home.

 

Injuries have also taken their toll

However, once Bellerin was fit again the Spaniard came back into the squad and started the FA Cup final.

Although the Ox had picked up a slight knock towards the end of the season it was another strange period in a strange career at Arsenal for The Ox.

It’s worth mentioning the Ox has had his fair share of injuries, per usual for Arsenal players. Those injuries have absolutely played a part in his inconsistency and at times, stunted development.

 

What’s his best position?

Is it beneficial for a professional footballer to be able to play a multitude of positions? Does that give them more options to get chosen in the starting XI at their respective club?

Or rather, should they solely focus on one position? Does the ability to play multiple positions hinder a player’s chances of becoming a regular starter?

That seems to be the case for the Ox. What position is he really an expert at?

He’s good at several and that’s his biggest problem. Most attacking players can play anywhere along the frontline, so that isn’t abnormal.

However the Ox can pretty much play anywhere except center-back or keeper. That can’t help, can it?

 

The Ox should remain a Gunner

I hope Arsenal keep the Ox.

With Arsenal’s aggressive pursuit of Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar, that may continue to diminish the Ox’s chances of a place in the starting XI.

If Arsenal stick with a three at the back, Hector Bellerin is undoubtedly the first-choice right wing back when fit. Is The Ox okay with starting the season out as second choice right wing back? I can’t imagine so.

Based on his performances last season, he’s earned a new contract and I hope Arsenal give it to him. I’ve spoken about having true Arsenal players in the squad before and the Ox is certainly one of them.

He’s got the absolute right to explore other options if he believes that’s best for his career.

If another club were to sign him, where would they play him? If he’s okay continuing in a utility type role, he’s got a place at Arsenal.

 

Time for the Ox to find his true identity

Maybe Wenger has big plans for him in central midfield or somewhere else. Maybe it’s best for the Ox to focus on a single position.

Ultimately players earn their place in the squad on merit. If the Ox had been banging in the goals over the years at Arsenal, I wouldn’t even have to write this article.

The Ox needs to find his identity as a player and embrace it. He hasn’t taken the big leap forward everyone was expecting. He’s only twenty-three.

 

He needs Wenger’s help

Arsenal have invested a lot of time and money in the Ox. Once again, he showed enough last season for them to continue the project.

Wenger and the club should help him do that. It’s Wenger’s job to find out how to best utilize his players.

Can Wenger get the best out of the Ox? Or is his time at Arsenal coming to an end? I hope he stays.

I believe in him and I think he can become a very important player for Arsenal and England. So what is it Wenger, is it better to be a specialist or a general practitioner?

 

Written by Kyle Keenan

Follow Kyle on Twitter @kyleskeenan

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