After an impressive display against West Ham last weekend, it came as a surprise to me that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t start against Basel in midweek.
When the commentator announced the line-ups, he said both the 23-year-old and Theo Walcott were being rested for Arsenal, given the fact that a top spot finish was unlikely given our circumstances.
Frankly, I’m glad. If his starting berth was at risk with both Alex Iwobi and Lucas Pérez performing well on matchday six, he’ll be able to rest easier over the coming days after a quietly effective display against Mark Hughes’ side.
Continually combining with players on the left-hand side, he was constantly threatening both with and without possession at his feet. Mesut Özil’s clever movement helped to drag a handful of Stoke defenders with him, creating space in the meantime, but the Ox’s first strike of the game skewed narrowly over the crossbar on the stroke of half time.
It was encouraging to see the 23-year-old getting involved in the final third, especially as he had effortlessly skipped past three challenges in the build-up to the slick passing move.
His contribution proved decisive in Arsenal’s second goal of the afternoon, where he showed visual awareness and patience in a tight area of the field to deliver a perfectly-weighted lofted pass towards the path of Özil in the area. The silky German showed good anticipation to breach the Stoke backline as they ball-watched, before looping a headed effort over Lee Grant within a flash and they found themselves 2-1 up.
Replaced just before the 70th minute mark in place of Alex Iwobi, it was a sensible change given the fact that Arséne wanted fresh legs in an attempt to seal the victory.
He and Sánchez were both substituted before the end, suggesting they are being kept fresh ahead of a hectic Christmas schedule, which includes a multitude of matches in quick succession.
Attack-wise, he made two key passes and completed far less touches than he usually does, which suggests his decision-making is improving on a weekly basis as he gets into promising attacking positions with minimal hesitation. Three completed take-ons reiterate the fact that he was a nuisance for both Glen Johnson and Bruno Martins Indi to deal with throughout.
A lazy judgment to make is the fact that he doesn’t create enough goal-scoring opportunities, score or assist as much as he should. With six goals and assists in all competitions, as well as a successful take-on percentage on 70% in the Premier League, it’s obvious to see that the versatile forward is beginning to silence his critics.
Defensively, he worked hard out of possession to help provide Nacho Monreal with cover when Stoke edged closer to goal on his side of the pitch. With consistent performances like this, you can only hope he remains injury-free and continues to excel in an ever-improving Arsenal side.
Stats’ source: WhoScored and Squawka