This time last month, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared to be edging towards the Arsenal exit door, with little but a recurring cameo role from the bench and constant jostling around a variety of midfield positions on offer at the Emirates Stadium.
That has been the shape of the stocky midfielder’s six-year Gunners career thus far – he’d made just eleven Premier League starts in the league before mid-April whilst featuring in five different roles – and it has inevitably impacted his involvement with the England national team, making just one appearance for the Three Lions since October 2015.
Consequentially, and with his contract due to reach that all-important two years remaining mark this summer, the 23-year-old’s name has circulated the transfer rumour columns throughout the season, Manchester United and Liverpool being amongst the clubs linked since late March.
But a month can be a long time in football, especially when your club is in as much turmoil as Arsenal, and during that period, Oxlade-Chamberlain has unexpectedly been reborn as his side’s right wing-back – something nobody have predicted during the Gunners’ 20-year run of exclusively playing four at the back, or when he was deployed almost as a No.10 against Bayern Munich back in March.
Indeed, a run of just seven points gained in eight Premier League fixtures compelled Arsene Wenger to adopt the 3-4-3 trend that has taken the English game by storm this season for a clash against Middlesbrough and it’s certainly provided the required shock to the system, Arsenal’s only non-win using the system coming in an (admittedly humiliating) 2-0 defeat in the north London derby.
And although right-back Hector Bellerin might seem the natural candidate for the right wing-back role, as a one-time winger converted into a No.2, it’s Oxlade-Chamberlain who has adopted it and arguably benefited most from Arsenal’s change in system – as shown by our infographic.
Being deployed deeper has allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain the space to gallop into, evident through his 2.5 successful dribbles per match, and a few yards extra room to unleash crosses into the box from deeper positions. He’s flung in a staggering 29 over his last four appearances, with seven hitting their target and two directly resulting in assists.
Of course, we all know how effective the 25-cap international can be going forward, but defensively too, he’s managed to hold his own – making nine tackles and chipping in at the back with eight clearances. Not all of his returns have been quite so impressive in that regard, however; in his last four appearances, Oxlade-Chamberlain has won just three headers and failed to make a single interception.
Nonetheless, Wenger may have inadvertently stumbled upon Oxlade-Chamberlain’s best role, one that highlights his physicality without putting too much pressure on him offensively – much like Victor Moses at Chelsea – and one that may convince him to sign a new contract this summer rather than look for first-team football elsewhere, at Liverpool for example.
If 3-4-3 continues to impact English football in the way it has this season over the next few years, the change in setup could well be the making of an Arsenal player who has often demonstrated his talent but never quite felt like the right fit anywhere else on the pitch.
A lot can change in just one month.