23 July 2017

An Ox in the transfer-shoppe: why Arsenal should quit Oxin' around...

Editor's Note: This week's guest-post comes from Emory Stern, who first took notice of Arsenal because of the Dutch-duo of Overmars and Bergkamp. He comes to us as an aficionado of beautiful, attacking football—in other words, he is a Gooner. In this post, he weighs in on the speculation regarding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's future with the club. Have at it, Emory!

No team has the type of players who divide (and frustrate) fan and pundit opinion quite like Arsenal players.  One of the players who fits this bill perfectly is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Ox was signed in 2011 and was full of promise. Initially deployed as a winger who can play either side, Arsène Wenger revealed that he saw Ox's future in the centre of the midfield and viewed him as a “Steven Gerrard” type of centre midfielder.  Fast forward to the conclusion of the 2017 season.  Ox was deployed in the FA Cup final victory versus Chelsea as the left wing back in our new-look, three centre-back system.  As a right footed player, he obviously did not look the natural fit there; however, he did the job and did it quite well, well enough to tantalise us with his future prospects.

Ox will be 24 years old in August.  Given his early rise, at this stage of his career, his game should be fine-tuned; he should be nearing his peak, and at the least should know his best position on the pitch.  However, it has to feel like the Ox’s career has stagnated, especially in the 14/15 and 15/16 seasons.  In those seasons, he was mostly deployed on either wing. This was a mistake because, when given the chance in previous seasons in the centre, he showed real promise. Tactically, he is much more effective when he is given more space to work with in the deeper parts of the pitch where he can use his power, pace, and dexterity going forward.  When we saw him deployed on the wing as part of the front three in a 4-2-3-1 we often saw him making the wrong decisions time and time again, especially in the final third of the pitch, and his final end product left something to be desired.

So back to 2017. Panic-mode has crept in and Arsène has one last roll of the dice during our dismal run of form in the New Year. He switches to a back-three and a system of wingbacks. To everyone’s surprise, the Ox is deployed as our right wing-back. I had formed the conclusion that winger was no longer a good position for him. However, at wingback, he is able to start his runs from a deeper position, gaining momentum on his adversaries on his wing. As Héctor Bellerín struggled for form and also dealt with a niggling ankle injury, the RWB position was there for the Ox to ake, and for the first time in a number of seasons, he was starting week in and week out—but—not in his preferred position.
Domestically in this summer transfer window, there have been a few teams swarming around the Ox in speculation that he would force a move: Chelsea and Liverpool have been sniffing about. Does he actually fancy a move away, or is his agent just stirring the pot as they always do so that we will give him a nice contract since his current contract is less than a year from expiration? That's a question that should be answered in due time. The Ox has made it clear he wants to play in the centre of the pitch.  Some items to point out are that the Ox is way down the pecking order in that area. It seems that he's only deployed there in stop-gap situations. It's unlikely that he'd be the difference-maker for us in the centre in terms of challenging for the league.

Lastly, in order for the Ox to flourish in the centre might require Arsène to deploy a midfield three (4-3-3 is what suits Ox best). I’ve given plenty of thought on the situation. I have also seen plenty of comments from fans via social media regarding the Ox and many are quick to comment that we should allow him to leave. I, for one would not be hurt if we let the Ox go…that is on the basis we are letting a centre-midfielder leave. However, we have no cover for Héctor Bellerín as of current on the right.  Debuchy and Jenkinson cannot be realistically placed in the picture (and there are strong rumours around both of them leaving).  If I were Arsène, I would be reluctant to let Ox go. He is a quality option at RWB, an extremely demanding position, and having him and Bellerín is an easy and seamless swap with rotation.  You have two extremely athletic players who are technically sound and can get up and down the pitch.

Also, it would be deemed a difficult task in finding a quality replacement in that position, much less one that would also be willing to play second fiddle to Bellerín. So, unless we can find sufficient cover for Bellerín, we would be out of our minds to sell the Ox. It is a sticky situation in terms of a career decision for the Ox, because the only place he will receive sufficient and consistent game time is at RWB.  Unless we decide to change systems (which I do not believe will be anytime soon), the Ox shouldn’t expect to get many chances at CM.  As far as a career point of view, he will need to sort out what position he wants to play and quit Oxin’ around.

If you fancy a follow, you can find Emory at @EmoryStern. Before you leave, share your thoughts in the comment-section below!