If you measure Arsenal’s performances so far this season against previous Premier League campaigns you can understand Arsenal fans disappointment to a certain extent. When you are in the title hunt on a regular basis expectations are raised, and nothing less than a solid title challenge becomes acceptable. This season hasn’t been good enough for a lot of Arsenal fans and there has been some doom and gloom at the Emirates at various points this season. I have spoken to many Arsenal fans who felt unhappy with the team’s performances at times, whilst some fans even committed the cardinal sin and started to question the actions of messiah Arsene Wenger.
Questioning Arsene Wenger has never really been done publically at Arsenal until recently when star man Robin van Persie, and 99% of the Emirates crowd, looked more than baffled as the manager removed youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the clubs recent game against Manchester United despite an impressive display. The crowd may have booed the decision, but they also stood and applauded a young player who had come a long way since making his debut in the 8-2 loss to Manchester United earlier in the season. Since the 8-2, Oxlade-Chamberlain had only made one other substitute appearance in the league until he got his first league start against Manchester United in January, but what an impact the boy has made in 2012 so far.
Arsenal needed someone to step up, a shining light if you will, who could lift some of the darkness that engulfed the club. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s (AOC/The Ox) recent performances have revitalised both the team and the fans, single handedly injecting some optimism and excitement in to the club. Although Arsene Wenger was booed for his decision to remove AOC against Manchester United, he must be praised for how he has handled the player since he came on to make his debut back in August.
Patience is a virtue and I say fair play to Arsene Wenger for taking his time with ‘The Ox’, it is now paying dividends. When it comes to grooming youngsters there is no one better than Arsene Wenger and it looks as though both he and Arsenal will be rewarded for treading carefully with AOC as he turns in some key performances when he could have so easily fallen at the first hurdle. Too many youngsters get thrown in at the deep end and do not understand what it takes to be a Premier League player. Most end up playing catch-up and are slow to realise that it is about physical and mental strength, and not just technical ability to successfully make the transition.
What Arsenal have in AOC is someone in the mould of Theo Walcott; he may not have Walcott’s finishing ability, but he does have his speed and skill whilst also be able to cross a ball. When you add the fact he is built more like a rugby player (a sport he could have also played professionally) you have the makings of a player that could be one of the best…in fact he could be so good it is scary.
Mentally ‘The Ox’ is very switched on; he has not had your typical education after attending private school, which seems to have given AOC a good grounding and attitude when it comes to learning. Chamberlain himself has admitted he is keen to learn from anyone, whether positive feedback or constructive criticism, the latter of which is an area that often affects a lot of other player’s confidence all too fragilely. He listens and learns whilst understanding that other senior players and also the manager are vital to his development as he sees himself as ‘one of the most inexperienced players in the squad’. When you mix this mentality with the confidence and belief he has in his own ability, you have a player mature beyond his years.
Between the two Manchester United games, Wenger was able to use The Ox sporadically in cup competitions and gradually ease him in, whilst developing his understand of the game and what is expected from him. Tonight’s Champions League game against AC Milan will complete the transition from boy to man for Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It is still up in the air as to whether he will start or not at the San Siro, but Wenger is no longer afraid to use him and this won’t be the reason he doesn’t make the first XI tonight. Oxlade-Chamberlain offers you one thing in two different scenarios – impact. The Ox can impact a game from the beginning, but is more of an unknown quantity against European sides and could easily unlock the game if tonight’s first leg tie with AC Milan is a cagey affair. Wenger also knows that AC Milan’s weak points are out wide, what better way to exploit them than bringing on pace and power with 20 minutes to go.
For those who moan about Chamberlain not playing a full 90, Wenger is very aware that despite his physical appearance and mentality, AOC is only 18-years-old; the demands of him playing a full 90 minutes at Premier League or Champions League tempo is a big ask for any 18-year-old who has only played 13 times this season and will manage him accordingly.
Whatever happens tonight, AOC will go on to start the second leg of this tie and the majority of Arsenal’s remaining games this season after getting to a stage where he is too good, too mature and too dangerous to leave out. No longer does the departure of Thierry Henry back to the MLS matter to Arsenal, a new star is born in to the Arsenal ranks and if he continues to progress the way he has been, Arsenal and England could have their own Messi!