Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was Arsenal’s best player in the second leg of their Champions League tie against Bayern Munich. That’s not necessarily saying a lot. Arsenal weren’t very good in this game. But still, you can only be compared to those around you, and Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared a lot better than many of those in yellow.
The young Englishman impressed with the pace and power of his running. Regularly he picked the ball up deep inside his own half and moved the play forward 20 yards. He gave Arsenal an outlet when they were most desperate in need. He was the one shining light in a rather demoralising tie.
At half-time, Ian Wright called for Oxlade-Chamberlain to be moved further up the pitch. Others felt he was still needed deep in order to continue to release the pressure. The only problem seemed to be that there was only one of him.
However, against Tottenham, the pitfalls of possessing such incredible physical capabilities were on display. His assist for Tomas Rosicky’s goal was a piece of miscontrol. So concentrated was Oxlade-Chamberlain on running as fast as he could that he seemed surprised when the ball actually came to him. It was only luck that saw it bounce off his leg and back into the path of Rosicky to finish.
However, these kind of incidents happened regularly when Arsenal attempted to counter-attack against Spurs. Such was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s concentration on speed that he appeared to lose sight of what the game is about. Running can only move you around the pitch; it’s what you do with the ball that counts.
It would appear that Oxlade-Chamberlain is in danger of falling into the much mooted ‘Walcott trap’. Blessed with a sprinters pace, Theo Walcott always wanted to be a footballer. And this pace caused many teams to court his services from an early age.
Walcott had the Holy Grail. He was destined to strike fear into the heart of centre-backs everywhere. But concentrating so much on this one trait can distract from the need to develop other necessary skills. When Walcott came up against better defenders who were sat deep because he now played for a better club; he didn’t know what to do.
In parallel to this problem of development is the problem of frailty. Pace is only fleeting. While it naturally deteriorates for all players as they approach their thirties, there is no guarantee it will even last this long.
Some players, such as Michael Owen, find it snatched away from them before their time. A torn hamstring at 19 changed the career trajectory of the boy destined to be England’s all-time leading goalscorer. When you allow this one attribute to be the centre of your game as much as Owen did, you leave yourself open to the possibility of ending up with little game at all.
However, even if Oxlade-Chamberlain retains his full physical capabilities for years to come, he will never develop into the player he could become if he continues to lean so heavily on these attributes. Pace can get you into a good position, but you still need both technical and mental faculties in order to find the right pass.
If your only thought is running past the player in front of you, then you fail to see the game around you. It is a great irony that it’s the footballers who concentrate the most on running fast who tend to be the one’s that often find games passing them by.
Physical prowess is an undoubted gift for any wannabe footballer. However, it can just as easily become a curse if it means you neglect the other parts of the game.
Superior speed and strength should be something to be cherished, not taken as an excuse for laziness. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was lucky enough to be born with these capabilities, but it’s now how he chooses to use them that counts.