Is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain proving an even bigger conundrum?
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain should never have gone to the Euros and he shouldn’t be considered for any England matches in the coming months. The reported wages he’s currently on at Arsenal is undeserving and the club and the FA would have done well to completely protect him from the demand from fans to see something bright and exciting.
The player set the benchmark incredibly high for himself following the performance against Manchester United last Premier League season and the wonderful display against AC Milan. But that should have been it. No trip to Euro 2012 before he was ready and no pay hike that dwarfs a huge number of veterans across Europe.
Forget the criticism of Arsenal’s wage structure for a moment, this is once again about a player who could fall into a trap of failing to live up to the hype of a nation.
At the time it was frustrating for Arsenal fans, but maybe Arsene Wenger was spot on to hook him during that game against Manchester United. He knows what he’s doing but unfortunately the player’s development and first season with the club coincided with the then worst season under the Frenchman’s reign.
Wenger says Oxlade-Chamberlain can play centrally as well as from the wings, but what we’re seeing isn’t anything new. The player has performed well on one or two occasions from the wide position, but largely he’s been disappointing. But is that the way we should be looking at it? A 19-year-old who is disappointing compared to what? A full England international on huge wages and a regular member of the first team?
Oxlade-Chamberlain will continue his education out on the wing because it’s the right thing to do; not because he can’t play centrally and make an impact, but who would he displace over the three starters in the midfield? He may be called upon when circumstances force the manager to do so, but his pace and direct play is a benefit to Arsenal where he currently plays.
But the issue isn’t where Oxlade-Chamberlain plays for Arsenal: we’ve seen it with Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela and many others. The problem is that the player’s development may be hindered by the demand for much more. He’s clearly not ready to perform every week at the highest level, and his display against Wigan on the weekend was arguably his best performance since the away win at Liverpool at the start of the season.
He’s undoubtedly a player who is a better choice on the flanks than some of Wenger’s other options, but that is once again a debate about the manager’s activity in the transfer market. He was always after Oxlade-Chamberlain with the view for the long-term, while I’m totally confident that the manager had no intention of giving the player his debut in that 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford.
It will be the same with Wilfried Zaha if Wenger gets his target in the next window, and once again it will provide plenty of demand from fans to see a new signing who has been hyped to the hill and back. It’s not the way football should be in this country, but Wenger has had to deal with the need to accelerate a player’s development.
Cesc Fabregas was a one-off, a superstar at 19 who could have controlled the midfield of any team in world football. Jack Wilshere is another and may go on to have the same impact at Arsenal that Fabregas did. But Oxlade-Chamberlain is just a youngster who happens to be one of the top of his class. He’s ready for one step forward, not five at a time.
It’s easy to overanalyse the player’s contributions on the pitch following his past 12 months, but it would have been so much easier if the player had just been left alone to quietly get on with his game.