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Can The Ox Plug Into Arsenal's New Attacking Software?

There was a collective, knowing murmur inside the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday night, possibly the only time that any sort of negative vibe was allowed to penetrate the 90 minute wall of encouragement. Aaron Ramsey, who had already covered a quite astonishing 7438 metres, stretched one last metre to close down Bayern’s David Alaba. He immediately fell to the ground with a grimace, his hamstring tightening. Instantly, he glanced towards the bench and made the circular gesture with his index fingers indicating that his race was run. It will be six weeks before he’s back in the starting blocks.

Arsenal’s front 3 has built up a fantastic synergy over the last few weeks, and you can make that work for you using a Bet365 promo code. But crisis always creates opportunity. Mathieu Debuchy’s injury troubles last season allowed Hector Bellerin to flourish into Europe’s finest young right back. Simultaneous afflictions to Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini made room for the re-emergence of Francis Coquelin. Ramsey’s injury is as gift a horse that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ought not to look in the mouth. It is testament to the malleability of football opinion that Ox has gone from livewire to liability in the imagination of Arsenal fans in the space of two months.

His winning goal against Chelsea at Wembley in August was meant to signal his long awaited breakthrough. In seasons previous, injury had consistently robbed him of his momentum, just as his star was beginning to ascend. But the campaign thus far has been one of inconsistency; for every forward action there seems to have been an equal and opposite defensive inaction. His defensive lapses have seen him struggle to break out of the plaster cast of impact player. It was Walcott’s defensive narcolepsy that saw him cast asunder from the team during the final quarter of last season.

Theo was eventually able to capitalise on circumstance, with Welbeck injured and Giroud suffering a period of ennui, Theo has been able to establish himself in his preferred centre forward position. But he has not played on the right hand side since an absent minded dereliction of defensive duty enabled Spurs to score a late winner against Arsenal back in February. Alas, Chamberlain has not shown much of an improvement on Walcott’s lack of defensive nous. I don’t believe this to be a product of idleness, The Ox is an industrious player and an intelligent enough guy, but for whatever reason, positional discipline off the ball does not seem to have been hardwired onto his motherboard. Yet.

Until recently, Chamberlain’s bombastic qualities seemed too precious to pass up. At the back end of 2014-15 and the beginning of 2015-16, the Gunners failed to score in 4 home games out of 5. Packed defences were finding it too easy to crowd Arsenal out. The Ox’s ability to beat a man and to stretch the play were logical tools for the shed of attacking talents in the front four. In short, he offers attributes not easily matched by his teammates. However, leaving aside his defensive naivety, there have been two major obstacles preventing him from nailing down a position on the right. Firstly, Chamberlain is something of a “soloist.” As @arsenalcolumn observes, he plays more like a traditional winger in a 4-4-2 than a member of a front three.

Danny Welbeck has proved so useful as a wide player in the front three because he understands how to stretch play, but also to link up with his centre forward, making himself available for a “give and go.” Simply, Chamberlain is a great player in his own right, with very useful qualities, but he hasn’t yet “plugged in” and synchronised with the team software. This is why he seems to be such a good impact player, he is capable of producing “moments” in a match, but does not contribute to the overall ebb and flow of the team in the way that Aaron Ramsey does. Of course that is difficult to do when you are in and out of the side. With Ramsey likely to be out for a period of six weeks and with Welbeck still side-lined, Alex has a very good opportunity to become part of the furniture, rather than just an ornament.

welbeck arsenal wide

His being an ornament would not be so much of an issue were it not for Alexis Sanchez, who is also something of an anarchist. But the Chilean is not so much ornament as prize sculpture. There tends to be room for only one rebel in a team’s attacking make up and ain’t nobody unseating Alexis from that particular throne. Arsene Wenger said on Tuesday that he was forced to rethink his tactics as Bayern unapologetically dominated the ball. He said that he decided to drop Özil deeper, to provide a Launchpad for counter attacks. But Özil did not just drop deep, he swayed notably to the left too. This was probably to give Alexis an immediate out ball, with the Chilean having already surrendered possession in his own half twice during the game.

Alexis is a significant and hard-working enough player to warrant such tactical gerrymandering. But no effective team can accommodate two mavericks in this way. To nail down a spot, Chamberlain is either going to have to produce greater attacking output than Alexis (unlikely), or else moderate his behaviour slightly and become a more rounded team player. He seems to have the intelligence and the work rate to manage that. With Ramsey and Welbeck injured and Walcott enjoying his recasting at centre forward, significant timber has been shifted from around Chamberlain to afford him the time and space to achieve it.

That said, whilst Walcott’s run at centre-forward has removed some of Chamberlain’s competition on the right, it has also created another issue for him. Alexis and Walcott have struck up a very positive relationship, acting more or less as a front two. With Walcott playing as a striker instead of Giroud, Arsenal’s front line is instantly more mobile. This has made some of Chamberlain’s most desirable qualities less crucial. All of a sudden, Arsenal’s forward line is concentrated through the power of Alexis and the speed of Walcott. The marriage of the two is able to offer most of The Ox’s unique selling points, plus they add goals to the mix. A forward line of Alexis, Walcott and Chamberlain sounds exciting and upwardly mobile, but it may lack structure and variety.

Chamberlain and Giroud tend to work very well together. The Ox likes charging to the by-line and Giroud is well versed with the front post flourish. There are countless


of this happening.

Both players are in a similar situation, in that neither will want to be typecast as “supersub” or impact player. Whether Giroud’s recent scoring run pushes him back into contention as the starting striker, or simply further convinces Wenger of his suitability to Plan B is an interesting conundrum, potentially complicated by the need to use Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right now. It might sound like an unwelcome restructure at the moment, with the front three functioning well in recent weeks.

However, football’s sands are constantly shifting. As I said earlier in the article, just a few short weeks ago, Chamberlain was considered to be the spearhead of Arsenal’s new title thrust. Back in April, Walcott’s Arsenal career seemed to be drifting away with a series of non-appearances as an unused sub. If somebody had told you last Christmas that come October 2015, Arsenal’s established starting line-up would feature Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla as a deep lying playmaker, Aaron Ramsey on the right and Theo Walcott at centre forward, you’d have been dismissed as a quite mad. Circumstances, the way the team balances itself and the form of individuals form a fickle triplet in football. With Ramsey, Welbeck and Walcott out of the way, the first of those conditions has fallen invitingly for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Now he must negotiate the latter two.

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Tags: Ramsey, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Chamberlain, Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wing

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