Friday, August 19, 2022

Boss and RVP love the Ox, but AW has warning

So, Monday morning, eh? After a win, eh? Tends to be quiet, eh?

That last one wasn’t a question. It’s true. After a win there’s a lot less to talk about than after a defeat. This, my friends, is not a bad thing at all. Much as I love the chatting and the breaking up of the online discourse to tell people not to suggest such things about their opponent’s mother and the like, a day when there’s little to complain about (although I’m sure some will find a way), is no bad thing at all.

Beating Blackburn on Saturday was just what was needed but was not a panacea to all our woes. Arsene Wenger was keen to make that clear and that there’s still a lot of work to do, but if we are to get ourselves back on track, this was a good way to start. And this morning, despite our best intentions of not over-hyping the young man, there’s much talk of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Sometimes you find spurious comparisons being drawn between players. Abou Diaby, for example, was The New Vieira Mk 3 (because we’d had a couple before that), simply because he was tall, black and French. And when Oxlade-Chamberlain was signed at an early age from Southampton, people suggested he might be the new Theo Walcott. He’s not. In fact, after his two goals and unconstrained performance against Blackburn, Wenger set the bar pretty high.

I feel that is always a brand of top players. They just play. When you saw Rooney start he played like it was natural, the same with Fábregas. They are happy on the football pitch and comfortable.

Now, headline writers will love that. The New Rooney. The New Cesc. That is gold. But what the manager is referencing is more than is footballing ability, which is obvious, but the way he plays. Some young players need time to get used to senior football, to mature, to feel comfortable and confident. Some don’t. Anyone that remembers Rooney spanking that goal past David Seaman will know that he wasn’t one of those. We watched Cesc come into our first team and appear comfortable straight away.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks like one of those players. Style-wise and in terms of his physique he is reminiscent of Rooney, he’s got power, pace, obvious skills and an eye for goal. And that might well influence where he ends up. He’s playing wide at the moment but the manager said when he bought him that long-term he’s a central midfielder. Yet when you have a potent threat in the final third, it might be an idea to use that, especially in a team which is prone to misfiring. Wenger says:

I feel he could play central midfield, he could [also] play second striker because he has something that is exceptional – he has a short back-lift and so when he has a shot on goal it’s difficult to block.

Of course playing him as a second striker would mean us changing our system to include a second striker, but at the moment he’s enjoying himself as part of our front three and even Robin van Persie sees something of himself in the young man:

He has everything. He’s good on the ball, he’s quick, has movement, technique. He has a great future. And he’s not someone who thinks about negatives, just positives, and you can enjoy the game like that. I had that as well when I was younger. I wasn’t thinking about ‘oh, big stadium’ or ‘big game’. I was just enjoying myself.

From everything I’ve read about him, and from what I’ve seen of him in interviews etc (which isn’t much), he seems like a very normal, very down to earth young man. Yet one of the big dangers of football is that as a star rises there are those around him whose influence might not be so positive, and potential often goes unfulfilled. The examples are ten a penny (think of Pennant, Bentley, Bendtner and countless more at our club alone), but this is where Oxlade-Chamberlain’s upbringing and intelligence might make the difference.

His dad played the game, knows the pitfalls, and perhaps the big difference is that The Ox’s modesty will prevent him from thinking he’s a much better player than he actually is, which has been the downfall of so many others. And I know we have all kinds of people working at the club, I wonder would it be helpful to have a ‘Keepyourfeetonthegroundoligist’ as part of the backroom team.

The other thing we ought to point out is that as people line up to criticise the manager for signings like Chamakh and Park, whose impact has been negligible, he looks to have unearthed another gem here. The changing face of the modern game means it’s nigh on impossible now to do it the way he did it with Cesc, essentially getting a world class player for free. Every club has scouts at youth level, looking for the potential stars of tomorrow. The impact it has on smaller clubs and those players themselves is another interesting debate, but from our point of view the near club record fee we paid for a 17 year old looks like money well spent, even at this early stage.

It ends though, with a word of warning from the manager, who, like us, has seen the damage that can be done by playing a player too often, too early. He says:

That is what happened to us last year with Wilshere, it was exactly the same. At the start of the season you think: ‘I will play him 20 games, maybe 25’, but after they deliver a performance, they play 45 and then they play for the national team and then they get injured.

It is very difficult to manage because people understand very quickly what kind of influence the players have and you want to win the game so you play them.

It is a tough one for the manager, no question, but maybe that’s something we should bear in mind if and when he decides to rest him from time to time. I’d be amazed if he didn’t go to the Euros too, so that’s something else for us to contend with. Still, it’s a better problem than the alternative.

Beyond that, not much going on this morning and with a full week before play again, away at Sunderland, it could be a pretty quiet one. Perhaps time to catch up on your Arsenal reading?

The reprint of So Paddy Got Up is available now, and if you’ve already got that I’ve contributed to an ebook which selects Arsenal’s best ever XI (my piece is about Robert Pires, funnily enough). It’s available from Amazon.

And that’s yer lot, have a good one, back tomorrow.

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