Much has been written about the awful blow of losing Theo Walcott for the remainder of the season has dealt to Arsenal’s Premiership challenge and of course to England in the summer. I am not about to sugar coat this but equally as so often the case out of adversity rises a hero . Or to use an idiom of life that is never truer than in football – One man’s loss is another man’s gain. The question for Arsenal fans to debate at present therefore is who will that man be? Who can fill the Walcott void on the right side of the Gunners attack or will Wenger realign his weapons or thrust of attack? Well today you can have my opinion and please stop here if you are hoping for view that will involve spending £35 million.
The majority of the Arsenal fan base seems to know everything about Julian Draxler, that he will be a world beater and that Wenger wants to convert him to be our saviour at centre forward as he did with RVP. Sadly I cannot claim any of this special knowledge and will confine this article to my own reality. That is, I will write about what can happen in the coming weeks and what I do have some knowledge on. In short I want to consider what we can actually do now with the shape of the side and the personnel who are fit and crucially who actually currently play for the Arsenal. Dull I know!
Only this week Wenger has been heavily talking up his belief in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and it is evident, that the bright future he sees for Ox is as a deeper playmaker. He likens this future development to that we have seen for Aaron Ramsey. However that is 2/3 years from now and the here and now it is likely we will see the young England star deployed out wide. Let us not forget that on the opening day of the season, when sadly he was injured and when the whole squad was pretty much fit, Alex was selected to play wide left and he assisted Giroud as I recall. It seems entirely plausible then that given the Theo sized hole Chamberlain might drop into the right wing role, where he has played much of his Arsenal football. A fabulous column on Friday from Tim Stillman looked at the same subject and as he identified there are more than one solution. Wenger might reintroduce Podolski to his preferred left flank position and shift Santi’s unconventional wing style to the right. He can of course also continue with the man in possession which is Serge Gnabry. In this piece I intend just to focus on Oxlade-Chamberlain and the implications for him having a run on the right when fit enough, starting I hope with a few minutes at Villa Park.
Many observers have correctly pointed out the negatives of losing Theo Walcott. His ability to stretch teams with his pace and to force them to play deeper are apparent as is the fact that he is a very serious and proven goal threat. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also very swift and noticeably more so than our young German. Will he personally replace the number of goals we all know Theo would have scored directly? No I don’t think he will but can he add an alternative dimension that has been lacking from our attack instead is the question I think we should be asking? To that I believe the answer is very much yes.
Those who read my site with any regularity will know how much faith I have in Ox and many have doubtless thought that faith misguided. I am in the company of Wenger and Hodgson so I think my shoulders are broad enough to cope with that. England have deployed him wide and centrally and he has shown on many occasions he has the mentality that enjoys the big stage and the pressure that accompanies that platform. He cool, composed and telling contribution in the Maracana will testify to that. Indeed in the Euro’s the England coach started Ox wide ahead of Walcott.
I believe the reason he did so is the same reason I believe Alex can offer us something we have been lacking in our push to silverware. It took a superb video compilation ‘The Return of Chambo’ from the talented Culann Davies to remind me what that missing ingredient was. In short whilst Alex won’t run in behind and offer a direct goal threat himself what he will do which Walcott does not do consistently well is simply get the ball, drive on, beat the full back get to the bye-line and deliver a telling cross or cut back. Please don’t take this as a criticism of Theo because it is not but it is simply highlighting what the video reminded me so vividly and it is what our attack has been missing as an alternative. I pointed out and I stand by it that Giroud’s goal drought coincided with us not playing to his strengths a few weeks ago. The Frenchman is good in the air of course but he is deadly at cut in ahead of the near post defender of keeper for a ball whipped back across from the bye-line. This is what Oxlade-Chamberlain does better than anyone else in our squad and it is why I believe his addition to the right side of our attack can turn a negative into a huge positive whilst adding variety and a new directness to our attacks.
What became apparent in watching the video is just how many times Oxlade-Chamberlain beats the full back and gets in a telling ball across the area. It is this visual reminder that is so much better than the pure stats. Looking at stats Ox only assisted 3 times for Arsenal in 2012/13. A quick look at Squawka backs up the visual evidence and tells us that he crated 19 chances for his team mates just in the Premier League last season, 31% of these from the right flank.
Looking into this more deeply I uncovered an article, admittedly from the end of October that I found quite revealing and depressing. Until the 30th of October there had been 31 players who had attempted at least 30 crosses into the box and only one of them was an Arsenal player, Ozil. Tellingly 3 of the 31 are Manchester City players and they are also amongst the most accurate crossers when it comes to the ball finding a team mate. You can read the survey and article here and draw your own conclusions but suffice to say only 2 players had an accuracy better than 40%. Ward-Prowse the young talent at Southampton was No.1 with 45% accuracy but David Silva was at 43% and Samir Nasri close behind on 38%. Now you may say it has not been our game but it should be and it can be. Quality balls into the penalty area at pace from wide and deep do result in defensive panic and goal scoring opportunities. We were deprived of 3 of our first choice wide players for ages in September and October but Ox and Poldi are now back and I hope Wenger will utilize both effectively. I should add that Squawka also shows that Podolski created 31 goal scoring chances in 2012/13 and of course the majority from the left flank.
With Giroud attacking the near post and Ramsey and Ozil arriving from midfield the return of Oxlade-Chamberlain and his differing strengths could well work to our advantage. He is a talented young man, full of confidence, desperate to join and contribute to the success enjoyed thus far and with a World Cup to aim for. Like I said at the beginning one man’s loss is another man’s gain and let’s hope it can be Arsenal’s gain too.
Remember when you think you know what Draxler could be for Arsenal, just stop and think what you thought Ramsey could not be for Arsenal!
Bring on the Ox!
Don’t forget to check out the video from @Culanndavies and follow his work