When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain completed his transfer to Liverpool in late August I immediately thought “What happens if he turns out to be good?”
The reason for this is not blind optimism as a Liverpool fan, the reason is that I have developed a complete lack of confidence in Arsenal Football Club.
Over the past ten years I have seen a club where any player with real ambitions leave and some others stand still after incredible early promise. Players like Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere showed in their teenage years that they had the potential to become the backbone of an Arsenal team as well as the national team but never progressed to anywhere near what their early performances hinted to.
A lot has been written about what goes on at Arsenal, are they too “soft”? Do they lack the killer instinct? But for me it’s Oxlade-Chamberlain that could shed the most light on the club’s inner workings.
Alex was signed as a 16 year old from Southampton after making 43 first team appearances for the south coast team. He had scored ten goals by the time he made his move (albeit in League One) but arrived with some fan fare and a price tag of £12m. He made 26 first team appearances in his first season and scored four goals, a tally only beaten once and that was in his last full season for the club where he played an additional 19 games in all competitions.
So what happened? Multiple knee, hamstring and groin injuries caused him to miss large chunks of seasons but one thing Arsenal fans always lamented was his decision making. There was never any doubt he had the physique, pace and skill to be a first team player at a team competing for trophies but he never seemed to gain the most important skill, consistency. This was no doubt due in part to his injuries but it couldn’t have been helped by not having a set position to grow into. In his time at Arsenal Oxlade-Chamberlain had been played as an attacking midfielder, on both left and right wings, a defensive midfielder and even as a right back.
Theo Walcott who made the same move from Southampton to Arsenal five years earlier has had a similar halt on his promise. Having being famously called up to the England World Cup squad in 2006 he has since only twice scored double digit goals in the 11 Premier League season he has played in for Arsenal. Roberto Firmino has already matched that record in his first two full seasons.
It’s still early days for Ox at Liverpool, moving to a club at the end of a transfer window requires some time to learn your role within the team but in the last couple of games he has shown glimpses of a player who wants to improve and has the ability to do so under the right guidance and in the right environment.
It will not happen this season, but what if a player who is till only 24 progresses more than he did in his previous six seasons at Arsenal? What does that say about Arsenal’s nurturing of young players?
Arsenal fans can name Van Persie and Fabregas but they also left. They had the ambition to better themselves as young players, which they may have done at any club.
If Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain becomes the player we thought he could be at Liverpool then Arsenal will need to look at themselves and ask some very hard questions. Time will tell if Ox was fooling himself into thinking he was better than he was or maybe he was just smart enough to see that being comfortable can lead to a wasted career.