Arsenal could sell Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but is Chelsea the right club for him?
The English winger is in the final year of his contract with the Gunners
"100%, I expect him to stay. No matter the speculation, he will stay." - Arsene Wenger
That was a month ago. Numerous reports in the English media now claim that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has become the subject of a £35m bid from Chelsea.
Wenger may be looking to run down contracts of those players who are yet to sign a new deal (Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere to name a few) but Oxlade-Chamberlain represents a slightly different case.
It's hard to believe that even though he is only 24 (er... Happy birthday, Alex!), he has already spent six seasons at Arsenal. Yet, his career has never really taken off and, despite his commitment to the cause, his progress has plateaued.
So what should Arsenal do next with the English winger/midfielder/wing-back/full-back/whichever-position-is-up-for-grabs?
Selling Oxlade-Chamberlain does not represent a loss to Arsenal
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. The fact that he has refused to renew his contract makes him a potential liability to Arsenal. He will be allowed to sign a pre-contract with any other club in January 2018.
Wenger drones on and on about players putting in 100% and giving it their all until the final day of their contract. Sadly, not many share the same archaic, 20th-century ideals as the French manager anymore.
Frustrated players who have had their heads turned will always encumber a team's progress. Moreover, if a player in his final year hasn't signed a pre-contract and waits until the following summer, the last thing he needs is an injury before he effectively becomes unemployed.
Such players will not risk going into 50-50 challenges. They will not bust a lung to spring 50 yards to avoid pulling a muscle (the type of injury that has sidelined Chamberlain many times).
Coming to Chamberlain's progress at Arsenal, it has been very limited. When he broke into the squad at the age of 18, he was an exciting prospect - raw pace, acceleration, power (for a player of his stature) and a mean strike from distance when he was able to keep his shot on target.
However, now that he is 24, Chamberlain still lacks the decision-making skills to seal a permanent spot in the lineup.
His versatility has actually cost him as Wenger has deployed him either on the flank or in midfield in a particularly inconsistent manner.
When Wenger played Aaron Ramsey on the flanks a few years ago, the idea was to improve his dribbling and on-the-ball skills so he would thrive when pushed back to the centre - and it worked. The same cannot be said of Chamberlain who had lost possession more times than Mesut Ozil and Ramsey last season.
But why compare him with midfielders when he plays on the wing? Because he did play in midfield last season on the odd occasion and that is where he sees himself playing in the long run.
For all his roadrunner-like pace and exceptional dribbling skills, the Englishman wants a permanent role in midfield. So does Wenger.
"In the future, he will play in central midfield. But at the moment, this wing-back role has suited him well." - Wenger on Oxlade-Chamberlain
Sadly, there is no room for him in Arsenal's midfield. And in the new revoltionary 3-4-2-1 formation, there is no role suited to Chamberlain other than the wing-back role. His bone of contention seems to be playing on the left instead of the right.
With Hector Bellerin on the right (a committed player who actually renewed his contract at the club last season), Chamberlain will have to make do with his left-sided role for now.
As things stand, Chamberlain is still not assured of a starting spot. Once all centre-backs are fit and available, new signing Sead Kolasinac or veteran Nacho Monreal will return to the left wing-back role which leaves Chamberlain back on the bench.
What most fans that do not want to lose him must realise is that Arsenal's English youth project has failed in recent seasons. Only Ramsey has established himself in the starting lineup ever since the British core was hyped up all those years ago.
£35m for a squad player whose career has stalled in north London is a lot better than losing him for free next summer - when he will move to another Premier League club anyway.
Chelsea could potentially be more of the same
If Chamberlain feels moving across London to Stamford Bridge will afford him better opportunities, he is mistaken.
If Antonio Conte is seriously considering signing Chamberlain, then it will only be to improve his wing-back options. There is no place for him in a midfield that has even Cesc Fabregas fighting for a spot in the starting lineup.
Conte's formation demands creativity from the wings and attacking trio up front. The midfield is not exactly a hotbed for creating chances - unless Fabregas starts from the outset. The two midfielders' primary role is to thwart attacks before they can begin and spread the ball out to the attacking players.
It's one of the reasons why Fabregas has struggled for game time in big games where Conte prefers tactical discipline to a 'luxury player' in a free role. Chamberlain would be the latter, fighting with Fabregas for a role in central midfield where his skills are average at best.
What about a role beside the striker then? With Eden Hazard on the left, he will be competing with the experienced Pedro and Willian for a starting role. Again, he will not be assured of starting games regularly.
So if he's moving across town, it will be more of the same - just a different shirt. If that is the case, why would he want to move away from Arsenal (i.e. if only Chelsea are interested)?
So what next for Oxlade-Chamberlain?
This is the dilemma that Chamberlain now faces. Where can he play in his preferred role? Which club can get the best out of him? Who can give him enough game time?
Wenger is attached to the player having signed him as a teenager from Southampton and developed him over the past few seasons. He clearly does not want all that hard work to go to waste.
However, Chamberlain probably feels he has hit a glass ceiling at the Emirates and needs to try something new to move up to the next level.
It is understandable, also considering it is a World Cup year and he will want to seal his place in the England lineup before the summer of 2018. But even with the Three Lions he sees himself as a central midfielder.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has reached a crossroads in his career. He cannot risk another year on the sidelines, watching his career circle the drain as it has done for so many other English youngsters who showed plenty of promise.
But at the same time, he knows that he must pull up his socks and convince Wenger to start him more often. Any sign of inconsistency will surely see him benched in a make-or-break season at Arsenal and that could seriously ruin his chances of playing for England in Russia next year.