Community Shield display hints at more to come from Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
It was a goal that had been a long time coming, it must be said. When Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain cut onto his left foot and rifled past Thibaut Courtois in Sunday’s Community Shield win over Chelsea, the Englishman’s goal ended Arsenal’s run of 506 minutes without finding the back of the net against their London rivals. The Gunners held out for the win, landing their second successive Community Shield and, in the process, ending Arsene Wenger’s 13-game unbeaten run against Jose Mourinho. The relief was palpable.
The Frenchman’s jinx against his Portuguese counterpart was finally broken, but while he will have been thrilled to have at last overcome Mourinho; Wenger will have been more than enthused by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance at Wembley. Injuries have restricted the 21-year-old’s influence for the North London giants, with last season his most consistent in terms of playing time. 17 of his 40 Premier League starts came in the previous campaign, but even so, that does not make for good reading for “The Ox”.
The 21-year-old has started only 26.3% of a possible 152 Premier League games since signing for Arsenal in 2011, with a series of knee, groin and hamstring problems hindering his impact for the Gunners. However, an impressive pre-season and a commendable showing on Sunday has raised expectations that Oxlade-Chamberlain will finally enjoy his most successful season to date.
Only centre-back and teammate Laurent Koscielny (7.98) gained a better WhoScored rating than Oxlade-Chamberlain (7.93) of all players in the season’s curtain raiser. As a collective, Arsenal completed 5 successful dribbles; 2 of those were courtesy of the young attacker.
Having completed a successful dribble more often (every 18 minutes) of all players to make at least 20 league appearances last season, this further accentuates Oxlade-Chamberlain’s WhoScored strength of ‘dribbling’.
With Alexis Sanchez set to miss the first game of the season following his exertions with Chile at the Copa America, the offensive onus may fall firmly on Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shoulders. His pace and directness on the ball render him the ideal winger in Wenger’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, provided he can stay fit.
With Theo Walcott likely to be considered a striking option in the upcoming campaign, it frees up space in the XI for Oxlade-Chamberlain to really stake his claim for a starting berth. Wenger used no fewer than 7 different players on the right flank last season, with Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey - central midfielders by trade - also utilised in this position. The duo may have impressed in their own right out wide, but it’s fair to say both are better placed in more familiar central roles.
Of the 7 players used, Oxlade-Chamberlain is the stand out candidate for a regular starting berth. Alexis may have been deployed on the right, but, when available, he should start on the left flank, so if he can remain injury free, a starting spot on the right flank is effectively Oxlade-Chamberlain’s to lose.
However, one critique could well be his lack of input in the final third. In his four seasons at Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain has just 6 league goals and a further 7 assists to his name, a relatively poor return for a player in his position. Injury problems meant he was unable to put a run of games together, which will not have helped, but considering last season he mustered just 1 goal and 1 assist; Oxlade-Chamberlain’s final product is an aspect of his game that needs work.
It is not for want of trying, though. Averages of 1.4 shots and 1.5 key passes per game in England’s top tier last term, while not the best of all Arsenal players, are still modest returns, but there is room for improvement, of that there is no doubt. At his age, however, chances are these returns can and will be built on by the England international.
The most important factor here remains the player’s capability to avoid injury. If he can replicate his pre-season and Community Shield performances, spending more time on the pitch than off it, Arsenal stand a much stronger chance of bettering last season’s third place finish.
This promises to be a hugely important campaign for Oxlade-Chamberlain. His performance against Chelsea, while in nothing more than a glorified pre-season friendly, has unsurprisingly sent excitement levels through the roof among Arsenal supporters. Remain fit for an extended period of time and he, Mesut Ozil and Alexis have the ability to form a destructive offensive triumvirate and one strong enough to fire the Gunners to glory once more.