CAM Role Beckons Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain?
Today on NLIR I am pleased to introduce a new guest blogger Manas Saraswat (@ManasAFC) Follow Manas!. Manas is an Engineering student from Delhi and has a deep love for everything Arsenal. Take it away Manas…..
Much has been made about Arsenal’s midfield this season. From general team balance, tactics and player positions we have seen a lot of different things being tried as Arsène Wenger tries to accommodate his players and build a solid squad capable of playing his brand of elegant and easy-on-the-eye football. If the last few weeks are any indication then we have finally recaptured that balance, mainly in midfield which has been the reason for our improved defensive solidarity over the last 10 games.
But as much as I’d like to dissect and analyse the mechanics of the Arsenal midfield, I’m not here to talk about tactics and formations as I’m sure you’ve read about a lot already. I’m here to talk about a player, whose improvement in recent weeks has gone rather unnoticed by many, to discuss his role in the team and the impact he’s had recently and also a possible relocation in the squad to where he might be a better fit. In recent weeks there have been suggestions from fans that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might be better suited as playing in an attacking midfielder role in the centre of midfield and I am of a similar opinion.
Since joining Arsenal in 2011, Alex has mainly been deployed on the wings. After a disappointing start to the season which saw him dropped to the bench, many thought his dip in form was due to ‘Ox TV’. Despite being a good laugh it seemed as though he was giving them too much attention rather than concentrating on training. It was later scrapped and since then he has enjoyed a resurgence which was timed a little too perfectly to be a coincidence according to some.
Alex has made huge improvements. He is a very young boy at that level, but what he is doing already is fantastic. He has moved forward a lot this season. Since January, he has grown up a lot and you see there is more purpose in his game.
His performances display an improvement on the start of the season that are reminiscent of the form that led to many calling for him to be a starter. One example is the game against Norwich where his drive through the middle of the field helped changed the game for us. In that game he set up the second goal with a brilliant one-two with Podolski in the box before crossing it into Olivier Giroud’s path to take us into the lead and ultimately seal the points.
Alex’s first impressions at Arsenal were positive. He proved himself a talented young player with that little bit of flair the Arsenal faithful love to see and quickly became the player fans were disappointed to see on the bench instead of on the field. Alex is quick and has the ability to go past players which often results in opposition defenders being dragged out of position creating space for his team-mates to operate in. Alex is a player who loves to dribble and has managed 1.3 per game in all competitions this season. He also enjoys a shot from distance which we like to see. Even when deployed on the wings his tendency is to cut inside (sometimes too much!) and take a pop at goal.
This begs the question whether he is suited to wing play or not. His ability seems rather limited for a winger and at times he seems reluctant to take a man on the outside. On the rare occasion he does he struggles to put in a good cross. Further evidence to suggest he could have a future in a more central role is that like some of his colleagues at Arsenal he is being nurtured in a similar manner. His ability to control the ball and travel with it in tight spaces has improved, much like Aaron Ramsey’s (also Francis Coquelin but he’s hardly featured this season) who was deployed at RW and RB and has transformed into an excellent player in the centre of midfield.
When started on the wings Alex has managed to score just 2 goals this season, one of them coming in the League Cup game vs Coventry which Arsenal won 6-1. He has managed to assist only 3 goals this season all of them in the PL and just this in 21 games which includes 11 starts & 10 sub appearances. I think he lacks the eye for a killer pass which one must possess to become a successful AM and his passing accuracy needs to improve. Also, he sometimes tries to do a little too much with the ball himself rather than releasing it quickly to a better placed colleague. This is not a suggestion that he has failed in any sort of way, it all the more beckons the point that he is limited when played out wide and can affect the game much better when played centrally.
Playing out wide hasn’t been all doom and gloom though. As mentioned above it’s more of a way to nurture and develop his talents and one only has to look at the recent history of Arsenal to see that a pattern emerges. Ramsey, Petit, Henry, and Lauren all have been developed in different positions than the ones they actually played in.
The final ball is much better and his concentration is at a higher level. That is what you learn when you go from a young talented boy to a real performing player.
One can easily forget that Alex is only 19 years old. He is bound to have some roughness in his game but to be an integral part of a team like Arsenal is in itself a huge achievement. To put things into perspective his best performance to date in an Arsenal shirt has been against AC Milan in the Champions League, where he started in a Central Attacking Midfielder position. Also while evaluating an attack minded player one can easily forget his defensive contributions. Alex always drops back to help out with the defensive duties when needs be, a much underrated quality in an attacker.
To conclude, I see him as a starter at the CAM position in the future but he is still a work in progress. So for his development Arsène Wenger should continue using him as an impact sub on the wings, starting when the squad is thin or in that odd cup game. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a midfield 3 of Ramsey, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain in the near future.
Thanks Manas. A good post about a great prospect. Alex certainly will end up playing in the middle and I agree that he needs to improve his killer pass making before he does.
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