Greater protection for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?

Arsenal fans would have enjoyed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first league start for the Gunners last weekend against Manchester United, displaying the fearless drive and bite that has been lacking in this current side. But for the development of one of England’s brightest young stars and a player who could be a regular international for many years to come, it is vitally important to not get carried away with the excitement of an 18-year old who has only made a handful of appearances for Arsene Wenger’s side.

Arsenal and England fans only need to look to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s team-mate at Arsenal in Theo Walcott and see the kind of negative impact overexposure at an early age can have. Walcott’s call-up to the World Cup 2006 squad was ridiculous and was fuelled off the back of hype surrounding a teenager who had yet to make his debut for Arsenal.

Oxlade-Chamberlain does represent a hugely bright spark in a time of darkness for Arsenal, and many fans will want to see more of the player; not because Wenger chose to spend £12 million on another youngster, but because he is the real deal, another player who could—and I stress could—have the same impact as Jack Wilshere over the course of the next year. It was exciting to see his natural, yet, raw ability cause United so many problems on the weekend, something Arsenal fans have not been used to for a while. But great care must be taken to ensure the former Southampton winger doesn’t end up as a wasted talent due to high expectations and the burden of pressure at the highest level—something which could have been avoided in Walcott’s case.

There is an argument to be had that Oxlade-Chamberlain is much more natural footballer than Walcott; someone who can combine trickery and technical ability with equally blistering pace. And from the little we’ve seen of him so far, there is good reason to believe he will far surpass the level Walcott is at when he reaches the same age.

Fabio Capello, who was in attendance for the weekend’s game between Arsenal and United, may look to bring the Arsenal winger into the England squad ahead of the Euros to test the youngster at senior international level. But regardless of the negative affect it had on Walcott, the FA really needs to re-evaluate the way it develops it’s young and potential stars. There is far too much emphasis on forcing young, inexperienced players into the limelight well before they have matured to the appropriate level; and that, I believe, is one of the reason’s the country has failed to deliver in a way that other European nations have—most notably Germany and Spain.

It’s obvious that a player like Oxlade-Chamberlain, and even Walcott when he was of that age, needs to graduate through each level of the England setup, from the U19s, to Stuart Pearce’s side, to the senior squad. A big mistake is allowing the player to be bounced from one squad to another, hindering his development and, of course, his confidence. Germany have done fantastically well in developing it’s latest senior squad by allowing players like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller the time they needed in the U21s; and at the same time, the Spanish league is filled with young players more than good enough to enter their senior squad but are afforded the time to gain experience with their club sides.

It’s so important, for both club and country, that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is given the necessary protection to continue his development under a manager who thus far done what’s best for him, despite what was said on the weekend. I hope that Fabio Capello finds some sense and does not expose a hugely gifted player to the physical and mental demands of a major tournament well before he is ready to take that step. A further run in the side for Arsenal in the remaining months of the campaign and a full pre-season will do wonders for the player. Give him time and hopefully at this stage next year, even at the age of 19, we can start to discuss Oxlade-Chamberlain as a player who is ready to make the permanent jump into the senior squad for England.

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