Published on Goonersphere.
The focus placed on development of youth at clubs has changed rapidly in the last decade, and is now almost as important as any other department within a top club.
From the vast scouting network which casts a wide net around the world in a hope of snaring big game, to the myriad of staff employed to cover every aspect of a hopeful candidate’s life, it’s clear that the polishing of these rough diamonds takes precedence over the majority of other requirements.
Arsene Wenger has been at the helm of Arsenal for over two decades now, and has seen the revolving door at London Colney spin round more often than Jamie Carragher facing a fleet-footed Thierry Henry. He has seen the majority of the young charges fail to make an impact upon his first-team plans, but there have been successes. Jack Wilshere is held up as a shining beacon of what can be achieved by a youngster who matches his talent with graft, and if these traits are intertwined with fitness – then age is simply a number.
There are of course, far more than the injury-cursed Wilshere to laud in terms of youth progress and holding their own despite their tender years, but would you include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in that bracket?
The Ox has on the whole, been consistently inconsistent since his joining from the Southampton youth product conveyor belt. A mere mention of his much-shorter moniker of ‘The Ox’ is enough to materialise grimaces of frustration from Gooners within earshot.
Now every young player should be allowed a certain amount of errors in their game, as mistakes are how we all learn and gain experience. For The Ox especially, there should be a larger margin for error as his style is purely confrontational, which in turn will see more possession conversions.
In short, he takes people on, makes things happen. That will see a higher rate of possession being switched, as the high risk – high reward style that The Ox favours requires him to pull a few tricks out of the bag to outwit opposition.
This site has published many articles on the lad, and we could all talk about how his numbers and end product are far from good enough. It is common knowledge that he needs to step his game up if he is to cement a future at Arsenal and indeed, England. He has rarely had a run in the team some will say, but the reason for this when he has been fit is that when he has been given an opportunity, for all to see he has let it slip through his fingers. Why play a player when he clearly doesn’t have a case for a start above others?
In 171 games for Arsenal (correct at the time of writing) he has scored 20 goals and given 27 assists. What really underlines his requirement for improving his end product is how often he is found in a dangerous area. The Ox really has a talent for finding the best position in attacks, but more often than not he hits the first man with a cross, or it will miss its target.
This season though, there has been a shift on the pitch.
He has scored six times and bagged six assists already this campaign. A straight fight between The Ox and Alex Iwobi has seen a rise in productivity and more charged performances from the man named after a bovine species. He has utilised the ball better, there have been rarer moments of induced groaning.
A promising run in the centre of midfield was his reward, and he took the chance with both hands. The Ox began to deliver the most elusive of traits – consistency.
The flowering of Oxlade-Chamberlain looks to have finally begun. Potential is great, but if it stays as potential and doesn’t begin to sprout life, even the most patient of managers will lose faith. Wenger has stuck by The Ox and his elevated performances are evidence that the faith he placed in the England winger wasn’t so blind after all.
It is still early days, but we are roughly halfway through the season and he has scored and assisted more than any other season he has played in. If he maintains this and continues to his consistency, then The Ox may just earn the established starting role he so craves.
Alex is not the youngster that can deflect criticism with excuses of lack of experience anymore. He has played against the cream of Europe, he plays international football and he has world class talent to learn from every day on the training pitch. Is this all starting to have an effect on The Ox?
Do you take stock from statistics? Oxlade-Chamberlain’s give off the impression that the padawan has finally started to flourish. Is he a fully fledged Jedi yet? oh no, learn more he must.