Moments, they define careers, regardless of profession. Whether you seize such opportunities define you as a person, define whether you’ll go down amongst the greats, or forever trudge through the realms of mediocrity. Oxlade-Chamberlain finds himself at his moment. Inevitable injuries plague another Arsenal season, and the Englishman has found himself a beneficiary of this. All started with a double-barrelled midfield on a frosty Saturday evening on the south-coast, from there a flower blossomed.
Placed beside two 19 year old’s, the Ox found himself having to be a leader of men on a ground notoriously difficult for the Gunners. Not only did he lead, he thrived. Combining explosive pace with incisive distribution, Chamberlain dictated the game, doing whatever the game demanded of him. The Arsenal needed cover, the Ox provided such cover. The Gunners needed a quick switch of play, the Englishman would ping a 50 yard pass and spread the play. The robust build of the 23-year-old allows him to cover vast acres of canvases across the country, yet the highly underrated intelligence he possesses means he can combine such technique he’s equipped with perfectly timed execution. Like a boxer with his opponent up against the rope, the Ox delivers the killer blow. Time after time, exquisite perfection pulsates through the veins of Chamberlain. Historical precedence is given to his ability to mould himself into such a role, with a Man of the Match performance away to Bayern Munich springing to mind.
It shouldn’t work, but it does. Completely juxtaposed to the perception of a central midfielder, the 23-year-old embodies the greater picture, this picture being a revolution in football. The game evolves, adapts, it always has and always will, whether this be the change in dynamic in forwards, ball playing defenders, or system changes, there is always room from evolution. In fact, worrying times will arise once such evolution disintegrates. Chamberlain possesses the attributes to be the type of midfielder the game demands, an astounding attribute. The game needs to be driven forward by powerful running? The Ox can deliver. The game needs to be slowed down? The Ox can provide such assistance. The game requires high pressing? The Ox will inexorably hunt until the ball is in his presence. This is much more than a simple box to box midfielder, this is the complete midfielder, the adaptable midfielder, the midfielder Arsenal so desperately need in a time of despair.
Stagnation had previously plagued the now experienced man. Placed on the flanks, the Ox’s game was limited to dynamic runs, completely unrepresentative of the Englishman’s true capabilities. In the Arsenal system, the right flank tends to be occupied by an inside forward, whether this be Walcott, Welbeck or Lucas. The 23 year represents somewhat of an anomaly to the general style Arsene Wenger deploys here, he’s an out-and-out winger. By deploying the Ox is midfield, you open up a whole new realm to the Gunners number 15, a rebirth.
So what happens when the returns of Xhaka and Ramsey occur? Does Arsene Wenger select on merit or on performance? Tactically speaking, placing Oxlade-Chamberlain next to the lethargic yet blessed Granit Xhaka could well be a revelation. By using the Ox’s speed and mobility next to the Swiss international, you arguably compensate for his immobility in this department. This season has shown the combative 24-year-old needs this protection, as whilst on the ball he’s one of the best in the league, a concoction of dubious refereeing decisions and poorly timed tackles have exposed the £35 million man. Ramsey is yet to convince next to the Swiss, despite having a fair few games in a pivot with him and Coquelin has become an increasing source of frustration amongst Arsenal fans (which I may add is unwarranted, he doesn’t force Wenger to start him). Yet, despite limited game-time, Chamberlain has taken to the midfield role like a duck to water, outperforming all those who’ve found themselves in a Gunner’s pivot this season.
All comes down the Manager, does he persist with the excellence of the Ox or does he resort to the tried and tested. As Albert Einstein said, “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong”, and time will tell whether the Gunners boss is willing to take such a risk. The Ox’s career depends on it.