Is Arsenal ace progressing well or flattering to deceive?

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal

While not all in the footballing fraternity will necessarily be too sad to see the back of 2012, if you’re Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, you’ll probably be wondering how the year ahead could possibly come close to the one he’s just experienced.

Indeed, after a year in which he made his first Premier League start for Arsenal, scored his first Premier League goals for the club as well as becoming their youngest Englishmen to score in the Uefa Champions League, the man nicknamed the Ox achieved more in the first six months of last year than many of his younger compatriots may in an entire career. But it didn’t stop there.

Throw in a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year, a call up to Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad as well as amassing nine caps and a goal for his country, such has been the unrelenting speed of the ex-Southampton man’s rise in English football, there’s hardly been a chance to take stock of the outstanding 12 months he’s just enjoyed.

Which makes it all the more bizarre that as we start the New Year, the 19-year-old seems to be facing his first pockets of criticism since making the move from St. Mary’s in 2011.

While it’s hardly as if Oxlade-Chamberlain has been facing any kind of wicked backlash from supporters, as we pass the half-way mark in the season so far, it’s been suggested that for a player who’s made such stunning strides in recent times, a return of only two goals and two assists in 19 games isn’t quite at the level of output that perhaps it should be.

Perhaps the key word in that last passage is one of expectation. Rightly or wrongly, the performances of Oxlade-Chamberlain and the remarkable progress he’s made from hot prospect to fully fledged England international, have naturally raised the bar in what people perceive to be an acceptable level of output.

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And if you consider how prolific the Gunners have been in front of goal this term, perhaps supporters aren’t completely missing the point when it comes to harbouring a little disappointment to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performances in front of goal.

For all Arsene Wenger’s defensive woes, it’s hardly as if his side have looked anemic when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net. Despite currently sitting sixth in the Premier League table, Arsenal have scored 40 times this season; a tally bettered only by the two Manchester United and Manchester City who sit first and second respectively. And when you consider who else has been scoring this season, it’s no surprise the heat is on Oxlade-Chamberlain to start racking up his contribution a little.

No one expects him to match Theo Walcott and his 14 goals and counting in all competitions, but you would expect him to be perhaps be doing a little better than his solitary two goals; one of which came in the league and the other in the League Cup. To give you a bit of perspective, Arsenal fans have been quick to maul Gervinho at times this season for his poor performances, but he’s found the net five times for the club this season. This isn’t to say supporters haven’t been justified in their critique of the Ivorian, but considering he’s fighting with Oxlade-Chamberlain for a place in the team, it’s hardly an unfair comparison to make.

Yet refreshingly for supporters, it’s not just those frequenting the Emirates who are longing to see a little more from Oxlade-Chamberlain, with the player himself admitting his frustration at his lack of quantifiable output.

Speaking to the Evening Standard last month, while he appeared aware of supporters concerns, he seemed steely in his resolve to keep ‘plugging away’ for the side.

“For me, I want to be getting more goals and more assists so I am always beating myself up when I don’t,” he said.

“I guarantee I will always give 100 per cent and will try to get on the scoresheet a bit more as well. I am never happy with myself. I know I have got quite a good shot so when an opportunity comes about and I don’t hit the target or make the keeper work, I’m not a happy boy.

“I’m just going to keep plugging away, keep working hard in games and in training. But the main thing is that the boys are getting the results.”

While things might not have necessarily gone his way in front of goal this term, most importantly for Oxlade-Chamberlain, it doesn’t appear to be affecting his resolve, which considering his tender 19 year, displays a sense of maturity that some of his more experienced, underperforming teammates could take a long look at. But asides from his age, most importantly for Oxlade-Chamberlain is the fact Wenger now appears happy to give him a solid run of games in the league.

It’s worth noting that he’s only started a mere eight of Arsenal’s 20 Premier League games, with five of those starts coming in the last four weeks. It’s no surprise that his recent run in the side over Christmas has coincided with a spike in form and now he’s getting starts in this Arsenal side, the youngster has the perfect platform of which to push on into the New Year.

But for whatever his output in front of goal, it’s worth noting that not even a year has passed since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first Premier League start in an Arsenal shirt. For all the heady progress he’s made for both club and country, there is still a long way to go before he resembles anything nearing the finished product.

It must be hard to retain patient at the moment if you’re an Arsenal fan, but for Oxlade-Chamberlain, the rewards on offer supplant any frustrations that fans may currently be feeling.

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