Arsenal have struggled lately and suffered arguably their worst result of the season on Saturday with a 1-0 loss to Stoke. One positive thing that has come out of the last month or so has been the form of youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Since coming back from injury in mid January, Oxlade-Chamberlain has been extremely impressive.
After a strong preseason, Oxlade-Chamberlain got the start on opening day, but he had his season spoiled by tearing one of his cruciate ligaments in his knee. The injury was a real downer for the obvious reason that not only was he going to miss significant time but also that Oxlade-Chamberlain was arguably Arsenal’s best player in the first half of that game against Villa. Oxlade-Chamberlain would eventually return after missing five months. After two short cameos against Aston Villa and Fulham, the young starlet got his first start since injury against Coventry City. Oxlade-Chamberlain has taken part in all but one of Arsenal’s games since then and has arguably been the gunners best player in that stretch.
While Oxlade-Chamberlain has played in central midfield, his main position is as a winger. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry are Arsenal’s only fit out and out winger on the team with players like Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, and Thomas Rosicky filling those wing positions at times. While those other players are very talented, they don’t provide the width or have the same explosive pace as Gnabry and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Serge Gnarby is a great prospect and has a bright future but, at the moment, is not on the same level as a player like Alex, who has provided pace and width down the wings. This presence stretches the opposition defence wide and forces them to drop back to deal with his pace in behind. This allows more space for the Arsenal attack to operate with. Oxlade Chamberlain’s pace allows him to run in behind defences and open them up that way.
While Arsenal slumped to an embarrassing defeat, the game against Stoke was a perfect example of him using his pace to stretch the defence. Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for only 15 minutes but was able to get in behind the defense on three separate occasions. If you compare his heat map for those 15 minutes the man he replaced at right wing, Tomas Rosicky, it shows that, Oxlade-Chamberlain was hugging the touchline much more and tried to get to the byline. On the other hand, Rosicky came in field much more and wasn’t trying to stretch the defense with runs in behind. Another example of his impact was for the second goal in the FA cup game against Liverpool. Oxlade-Chamberlain got in behind Daniel Agger, received the ball from Mesut Ozil and put the ball on a plate for Lukas Podolski who fired it into the back of the net. Arsenal have been lacking play like this at times this season making it tougher for them to score goals.
Oxlade-Chamberlain came back around the same time fellow winger Theo Walcott was injured. He has become just as important as Walcott was prior to his injury. Oxlade-Chamberlain has provided the width, pace, and directness the Arsenal attack has been lacking since Walcott went down injured. While his main position is as a winger, Arsene Wenger says he sees The Ox as central midfielder one day. Wenger gave the young Englishman his chance to play there against Crystal Palace in the league as well as Coventry in the league cup. When he played there, Oxlade-Chamberlain provided the runs from deep the Arsenal attack has been missing in the absence of Aaron Ramsey. The Ox could really, to a point, help fill in for either Ramsey or Walcott. Sadly for Arsenal, they are desperately missing both players and they only have one Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has returned and made a big impact scoring three goals and bagging an assist since his comeback. He has come back and not missed a beat playing superbly. He has been one of Arsenal’s best players, since his comeback, and is making himself one of their most important players. If he keeps his form up, he really should be starting every game for the Gunners. If Arsenal want to capitalize on their now slim chances for the Premier League title Oxlade Chamberlain will be a key for them.