I am currently writing this on the 29th December. Arsenal have just won 1-0 away to Newcastle, and are currently sitting top of the league going into the New Year. Small stat for you, in the last 4 years, the team top of the league has gone onto win the league. Pressure. However, I am writing about one of Arsenals missing players, who could make a huge impact in the second half of the season, and one they have solely missed. He goes by the name of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, and is, in my opinion, Arsenals and England’s biggest prospect.
At Arsenal, the formation generally used is a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3. The 1 in this formation is vital, as it is to initiate attacks, directing our play forward. It is the stop gap between the full backs, the middle 2, and the front 3. The success of this role is measured in different ways, one, by how often we attack, what the quality of the ball is into the attacking 3 is. It has a great overview of the whole field, something which is vital. It requires quick decision making on and off the ball, accurate execution of passes, which will require a variety of different types. The player needs vision, close ball control, speed, agillity, can get the ball out of your feet, drive and stamina. A good ‘man in the hole’ gives the team shape and purpose by conducting the play, and hopefully will produce a great number of indirect, or, assists.
This might seem gibberish to you. However, where has Oxlade Chamberlain played for the majority of his career at Arsenal? Wide midfielder. Looking at the range of skills i just posted, how many has the Ox gathered over the last 2 years? I can safely say all of them. One advantage he has, is the fact that he has played out wide. “Get used to using the ball in a small space, as the touchline effectively divides the space that’s available to him by two; when you move the same player back to the middle, he breathes more easily and can exploit space better.” That is the beliefs of Arsene Wenger, and is shown it works, with players like Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey all having spells out wide before coming into the middle.This means that the Ox will be more aware of the space he will have when coming inside. Where do you play him?
As I mentioned, the Ox can play every role in the front 6 of the pitch, depending on the team around him.
Box to box midfielder:
In the role deeper behind the 1 in Arsenal’s formation, is a position the Ox had to play in with great maturity in the past. He had to play there against AC Milan in the Champions League, trying to turn around a 4-0 deficit from the first leg. He showed the physical, mental and technical attributes to be arguably the best player on the pitch that game, performing so well in that game that Dutch legend Marco Van Basten called him a little gem. High praise from someone of that calibre in a position you haven’t really played in before. The Ox has the right attitude, chomping at the bit to get a chance wherever he plays, which is a great attribute to have in someone so young.
However, one of his greatest performances was against Newcastle at the end of last season. Arguably Arsenal’s biggest game of the season, and biggest in my opinion since the 2006 Champions League final, the Ox started on the bench. He had to be in the right frame of mind and mentally ready to step in for anyone, and unfortunately (or fortunately) he had to step in for our defensive midfielder, and captain Mikel Arteta who suffered a calf injury in the 28th minute. The Ox came on for him, and sat alongside Aaron Ramsey, and had to show a completely different side to his game that we had never seen before. He showed a remarkable ability to screen the back four, sitting in front of them and breaking up the play. He kept the ball in a calm fashion, always picking the easy passes for his team mates, whilst also doing a good amount of attacking duties.
A player like him is he always good to have in the starting line up, because of the possibilities he can give you during the game. He allows you to change your team shape during the game and can give you many varieties including the ability to overload in attack. His ability to glide past players in midfield is easier for him because of his experience on the wings, which is what I touched on earlier.
The False #9 is a interesting one, and one that wont be used very often, but can be used to dangerous levels if used effectively. The false #9 is a interesting formation, one that must be understood by everyone in order for it work properly. For me, for this system to work you need 2 direct, pacey wingers with a good eye for goal (see Walcott, Gnarby, Cazorla to a extent, and maybe any additions such as Draxler, Reus, El Shaarawy) and midfielders with exceptional passing abilities (see Özil, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Arteta, Zelalem, and again any new additions, Pogba, Gundogan, etc) this is why it is a hard formation to master due to the complexity of it. Now, with the Ox, we all know about his immense talent especially his direct running, decisive passing and excellent decision making for someone still so so young. The ideal template for this role, is arguably the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi. He has mastered this role to perfection.
Now, I wont go into the attribute the Ox has had, because it feels like I have taken a trip on the Magic Roundabout. However, they all directly link into the False 9 system made so effective by, Bayern, Germany, Spain and Barcelona.
Now, is the dilemma with the Ox. Where do you put him?
Bare in mind, he is still extremely raw. He has a lot of potential, but still has a lot of learning to do.
Comments on the Ox are welcome and feedback appreciated.