“I don’t know if I’m more worried cause Mesut is injured or cause Ox is starting.”
So said Daily Cannon’s own graphics guru Anita Sambol on seeing the team news.
It’s fair to say she was not alone – Twitter was far from a positive place to be 45 minutes before kick-off when the Arsenal fanbase got the news that Mesut Ozil would be missing the game at Stoke, and instead of the usual defined midfield roles we would have a more fluid formation, including one Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The Ox has struggled to have an impact of late when given opportunities to play wide, but had looked something closer to his former self playing more centrally in the FA Cup tie against Sunderland. Here was a chance to show the impact he could have in a crunching Premier League tie.
In a side shorn of its most creative player, Alex looked to get his head up early and try to make something happen. Inevitably this introduces an element of risk, and today he didn’t quite get the reward of a goal or an assist. However, you can see how important it is for players to try to own a move and generate a good chance when you look at the stark contrast between the Ox and the likes of Flamini, who causes play to stagnate. Our Englishman never hid, and tried to create an opening throughout the game.
Where Alex could be found a little more wanting was on the occasions where he ended up trying to force things, sometimes on the counter-attack and sometimes when he took on a shot when an overlap was perhaps a better option. That said, he did force a good save from Butland with some good footwork in the first half.
One word – passing. Misplaced passes, which might otherwise play someone clean through are frustrating but easy to understand, but at the moment the Ox is guilty of giving the ball away playing an otherwise simple pass, whether by missing the man altogether or chipping the ball up so that the player receiving the pass is under pressure immediately. Admittedly, it seems to get worst when he’s trying to be too conservative. There was one particularly painful exchange with Flamini where a Stoke player simply nipped in between their lethargic and telegraphed passing, and he needs to tidy up the basics in his game to be able to make the most of his many attributes. Perhaps Aaron Ramsey should have a word…
Overall, it was another unconvincing performance from Alex, albeit I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say he had a nightmare as many are doing. Too many players didn’t play at the top of their game and as we saw at Sheffield Wednesday earlier in the season, no one can look that good in a team which is playing below its level.
A bit chicken and egg then, you might say!