When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain broke into the first team during the 2011 season, he was labeled as a future star at Arsenal. Six seasons on and Oxlade-Chamberlain has failed to solidify a consistent starting position. The same question remains: What position is best for “The Ox?” He has shown glimpses of promise in the several positions he has been assigned, but this weekend will be an opportunity to establish himself as an indispensable part of the Arsenal cog.
Unfortunately, news about Aaron Ramsey’s injury does not sound as if he will be available for selection this weekend. Oxlade-Chamberlain will come into the center of the midfield and he can be the catalyst to a Gunners victory. Partnered with Francis Coquelin, the two should provide plenty of industry and energy in the center of the park. Oxlade-Chamberlain will surely be given the license to push forward and join the front four.
Arsenal have placed him in this position sparingly, but last Saturday against Southampton, he produced a decisive display. Oxlade-Chamberlain was quoted after the game “It was nice [in the centre], I like it in there” (via Arsenal.com). He used his athleticism superbly, but really caught the eye with masterful passing. It was evident that he felt confident and comfortable playing the position.
Previously, Wenger has said as quoted by Arsenal.com, “He has the attributes to play in central midfield, he has that important quality – a little surge to get out of pressure”. From what we have seen so far, we would agree with Wenger here. Oxlade-Chamberlain will have to play close to his full potential in order to succeed in such a blockbuster tie.
Arsenal’s faint title hopes will hang on Saturday, and the stage could not be brighter for Oxlade-Chamberlain. With an Arsenal victory, the deficit drops to six points with fifteen games to go. This game might provide the platform, and momentum, for a title charge.
As enormously important as the game is to the season, I believe it is equally as important to Alex. There have been regular conversations among Gunner supporters about players not fulfilling their potential. Unfortunately, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s name is starting to creep into these conversations. With a great display at Stamford Bridge he can quell those whispers and validate his value to the Arsenal team. His style of play warrants the affection that he receives from Gooners, but his quality and consistency does come under question. This may be the test that he needs to pull himself out of uncertainty and into clarity.
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The stage is set: a London derby between league leaders Chelsea against third place Arsenal. The stakes do not get much higher and opportunities usually are not of this proportion. Arsenal fans are hoping that Oxlade-Chamberlain can perform while the lights are the brightest this coming Saturday.