by Lewis Ambrose
If you count the Community Shield as a competitive match pre-season is now over and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has reaffirmed the idea that he is set for a big season.
This is the year he finally takes off.
The same has been said of the Englishman for the past two years but injuries have never quite allowed that to happen.
“We are looking forward to him fulfilling his huge potential with Arsenal,” said Arsene Wenger when he signed Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton. We’re still looking forward to it but it feels like he is closer to delivering than ever.
Arriving in London at the age of just 17, the teenager went on to make 26 senior appearances in his first season. Matches against Manchester United and AC Milan assured he was a household name who undoubtedly had a huge future ahead of him.
He impressed and played 34 games during the 2012/13 campaign, starting 17 times. The winger showed some flashes of brilliance but most impressive was his maturity. Arsenal had to beat Newcastle on the final day of the season to finish 3rd and qualify for the Champions League. With Mikel Arteta going off injured ‘Ox’ played over an hour in central midfield alongside Aaron Ramsey. An attack-minded player and just 19 years of age, his mature and sensible performance underlined his incredible talent.
2013/14 briefly began with Oxlade-Chamberlain back out wide but suffered knee medial ligament damage at the end of the first-half on the opening day of the season. Arsenal went on to top the league table but, unfortunately, couldn’t maintain a title challenge.
A return to the team sparked some life into the Arsenal side. The end of the winter saw Ox bag two goals against Crystal Palace, and scare the living daylights out of Bayern Munich playing in the middle of the pitch. Back on the right he had a starring role in FA Cup wins over Liverpool and Everton, with . His time in the team in the absence of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott showed that he is truly invaluable to Arsenal.
Yet another injury forced the winger out of the FA Cup Final he had helped us reach.
He did return in time to steal the headlines as England warmed up for the World Cup, only for further knee problems to rule him out of the competition.
Surely 2014/15 would finally be a season for the Ox to celebrate?
He started 16 Premier League games before February but a disjointed Arsenal didn’t help as Oxlade-Chamberlain struggled for form. Without Mesut Özil to link up with or feed him and Arsenal playing in a new 4-1-4-1 that they struggled to get to grips with the winger didn’t hit top form.
He did still show his quick feet now and then. Nacho Monreal’s FA Cup goal at Old Trafford came from a superb piece of skill from the Ox, who then had the composure and awareness to look up and pick a pass. A goal against Anderlecht displayed what Ox should be doing more often – one Premier League goal wasn’t enough last season. Hamstring and groin issues meant he didn’t feature again until the FA Cup Final in May but Oxlade-Chamberlain made a mark at Wembley.
It was only a cameo and only the fourth goal in a game that was already won, but his ability to get to the byline before delivering a quality ball is something that has always been a part of his game, despite featuring too seldom.
This is finally the season. Oxlade-Chamberlain looks set to start for Arsenal on the right wing and has the opportunity to nail down his place before Alexis Sánchez returns to the country following the Copa América.
Saturday’s Emirates Cup performance against Lyon was superb. Driving runs, intelligent passing, and end product to go with it all. Ox’s goal against the Ligue 1 side was fantastic. A well-timed burst saw him sail past the Lyon defence as he pounced on a pass from Olivier Giroud. His finish was quietly definitive. He didn’t lash at the ball but picked his spot and stroked it beyond Anthony Lopes.
A substitute appearance against VfL Wolfsburg involved Oxlade-Chamberlain frequently looking dangerous and continuously bursting beyond highly-rated Ricardo Rodriguez.
Truthfully, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has it all. He is incredibly quick and strong. He’s capable of delivering from out wide as well as joining in with play centrally. He packs a mean shot and sometimes he can even finish decent chances.
Maintaining fitness and earning regular football in a confident Arsenal team this season would see Oxlade-Chamberlain finally begin to show why he simply has to start when fit. He’s 22 on the opening day of the Premier League season and it is time to come of age.
So who will be Arsenal’s player this season?
It may be a little bit of a left-field shout, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the Ox.