With all the furore surrounding the sales of Robin Van Persie and Alex Song, it is easy to forget what an important season lies in store for one of Arsenal’s young stars. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain burst onto the scene last season with some fantastic displays, both on the wing and in the centre of midfield.
Chamberlain’s performances were enough to earn him a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the European Championships, and the 18-year-old started the first group match against France. Widespread comparisons have been drawn with Theo Walcott, with both having been bought to the club from a young age having been products of the Southampton youth academy.
I am just hoping Arsene Wenger does not make the same mistakes with Chamberlain he made with Walcott and end up halting the development of one of the finest young talents in the country.
Since Walcott signed for the Gunners in 2006, he has only shown glimpses the potential that saw his manager once declare he was Thierry Henry’s natural successor. Wenger went for the softly-softly approach with Walcott, not playing him once that season following his January signing. However this did no detract Sven Goran-Eriksson from picking the 17-year-old for the 2006 World Cup, a decision that is still regarded as one of the most baffling managerial selections of all time.
The media frenzy that surrounded that decision may have had a bigger impact on Walcott than many care to realise, and maybe influenced Wenger’s decision to use him sparingly the following season. Despite his obvious potential and electrifying cameo’s, Walcott was never given a regular run in the side or even sent out on loan in order to further his development. A brilliant finish in Arsenal’s league cup final defeat to Chelsea did not even earn him a run in the side.
Despite Walcott’s obvious talent, he remains something of an enigma to many Arsenal fans. Brilliant one week, clueless the next, with indecisiveness being perhaps his biggest flaw. This was the fault that cost him his place in Fabio Capello’s 2010 World Cup squad. Walcott arrived at Arsenal as a striker, but has always been deployed on the wing by Arsene Wenger. His positioning is often questioned as well as his ability to deliver a final ball, and many perceive the 23-year-old as simply a speed merchant.
It is a shame as Walcott obviously has bags of talent, and it is my opinion he was let down in the crucial stage of his development by his manager. Fortunately it seems Wenger is not willing to make the same mistakes with Oxlade-Chamberlain, giving the 18-year-old a fair amount of first team football last season.
Perhaps the defining moment was Chamberlain’s selection for the return leg of Arsenal’s last 16 clash with AC Milan, where the Ox proceeded to run the game from the centre of midfield as Arsenal came close to producing a stunning comeback, winning 3-0 on the night. It is obvious Wenger has a special talent on his hands, so why not use him?
As Glenn Hoddle once said of an 18-year-old Michael Owen: “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.” That is why it is crucial Oxlade-Chamberlain is a regular fixture in Arsenal’s team this year in order to give him the crucial experience required at this stage of his development.
A young and fearless Oxlade-Chamberlain should be an exciting prospect for Arsenal fans. If his performances last season are anything to go by, he could dispel a lot of the doom and gloom around the Emirates following the departures of Van Persie and Song.