Rather surprisingly, the current season has represented a quiet campaign for Arsenal starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Along with fellow Southampton academy graduates Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale, big things have been expected from the Englishman since his £12million move from St. Mary’s in 2011, but overall he is yet to fully deliver, with only rare glimpses of his abilities and on occasion rather lacklustre displays.
It begs the question whether the 19 year old would benefit more from away from the Emirates, plying his trade with a smaller club for a season to gain better experience and be given a more consistent level of game time?
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A similar mistake was once made with Theo Walcott – this season, the 23 year old has emerged as one of the Gunners’ top performers, with 14 goals and 10 assists in 32 Premier League appearances, but it has certainly taken a while for the England international to fully get going in North London. Before this season, and indeed, even until Walcott’s refusal to his extend his contract at the Emirates, his age contributed to Wenger viewing him as a bit-part player, capable of coming off the bench and making an impact, or even starting in auxiliary competitions, yet his progress undoubtedly stalled due to the fact he wasn’t breaking into the first team and his game time would always be limited.
Arsene Wenger appears to have a rather perplexing approach to the loan system – whereas other clubs tend to farm out their young stars in a bid to allow them as much action as possible, the Gunners gaffer reserves short-term deals to get his cast of lacklustre stars, the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Denilson and Park Chu-Young off the wage bill for as long as possible. Of course, there are exceptions to my sweeping accusation, such as Ryo Miyaichi, who has spent a year away at Wigan, and Jack Wilshere who rose to prominence on loan to Bolton, but on the whole, Wenger has knack of keeping his youngsters close by and using them in cup tournaments rather than letting them learn on the job by plying their trade with other teams.
To be fair to the Frenchman, he has utilised Oxlade-Chamberlain on 33 occasions this season, yet only 11 of his first team appearances have been Premier League starts. The impetus to not rush a youngster into playing a full 90 minutes week-in-week-out is understandable, yet if he wants Oxlade-Chamberlain to reach his full potential sooner rather than later, it will take more than simply a cameo role and ten minute spurts from the bench to get him there.
The England international could become a real force in the near future; his all round game presents a bit of everything – athleticism, skill, strength, flair, creativity and a high work-rate. Yet the only thing undoubtedly missing is consistency. He can look a player beyond his years on occasion, but can also have little to offer and be rather absent – his substandard performance against Bradford in the Capital One Cup comes to mind, and there have been similarly unexceptional performances over the course of the season. A year of regular football could remedy that, or at least allow Oxlade-Chamberlain to obtain a better understanding of what it takes to perform at the highest level for a full 90 minutes.
Similarly, where the England starlet’s future lies in terms of position remains unclear. Whilst on the most part he has been utilised by Wenger on the wing, which seems to adhere to his pace and skill, many believe that over the years he will transform into a central midfielder, with his exceptional stamina and robust physique. Playing for a smaller club for a year could once again shed some light on the issue – it’s clearly too big a risk for the Arsenal boss to simply start playing Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle of the park, as it’s a position where mistakes are often punished, especially in the Premier League, yet a team of less stature would be more willing to accept the balance between the Gunners’ midfielders strengths and weaknesses.
Furthermore, plenty of Premier League clubs would undoubtedly be happy to receive Oxlade-Chamberlain’s services. Along with Jack Wilshere, he is very much considered the future of the England national team, and unlike many youngsters at the Premier League’s biggest clubs, does not have that sense of prima-donna arrogance about him that would disallow him to make the best out of his opportunity to shine.
This season, farming out youngsters has paid dividends for Chelsea’s young cast, such as Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Nathaniel Chalobah, and Thibult Courtois, who have all excelled during their time away from Stamford Bridge, and on the continent, in Germany for example, players such as Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundongan have already made in excess of 100 competitive league appearances at the highest level, whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain has turned out just 41 times in the Premiership. Furthermore, we have just witnessed the England U21s losing to much lesser opposition, simply due to the fact that much of the squad have not received enough regular football for their age.
That being said, the timing may simply not be quite right for the Gunners. Of Course, it all depends upon summer transfers and whom Arsene Wenger decides to buy and sell, but the roster’s current make-up leaves little room for Oxlade-Chamberlain to take a year out. Currently, Arsenal possess four wide men in Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain, whilst Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla have been utilised on the flanks with varying degrees of success at times this season. With Andrei Arshavin set to leave under the bosman ruling, Wenger may need Oxlade-Chamberlain as cover next season, whilst Gervinho and Walcott particularly are no stranger to injury.
In my opinion however, if Wenger can afford to farm out Oxlade-Chamberlain for a year, he should do so. Whilst there are obvious benefits for Arsenal in keeping him at the Emirates, allowing him to be moulded in Wenger’s vision and adapting his game to the way the Gunners play, for the sake of his development as an individual and a footballer, he would surely benefit from as much game time as possible.
Too many players have been lost to mollycoddling in the past, and unlike at other clubs where youngsters are not given an opportunity in the first team, Oxlade-Chamberlain has already conquered that barrier, but lacks the consistency to play every week. The only way he can reach the next level is through gaining experience, and with his role reduced to around 10 starts per season, often out of necessity through injuries rather than choice, the only way he will be able to do so is at another club. There is no doubting the Arsenal starlet’s potential, but he needs a greater opportunity to prove himself than he is currently receiving at the Emirates.
Should Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain be loaned out next season?
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