The Ox – A Bovine Paradigm

Originally posted on Goonersphere.
Last seasons Champions League exit at the hands of Bayern Munich ( again ) in the Last 16 was memorable for another reason aside from a repeated attempt to claw back a first leg deficit. If memory serves correctly, it also saw a titanic performance from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

His inclusion in the team saw him involved heavily in play. Defence and attack, he created, he harried, he hustled. He was the outlet to which Arsenal converted pressure put on them by a star-studded Bayern. A highlight of his all-action performance was a slaloming run taking him past at least three Munchen players.

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This run was symbolic of why such high hopes have been pinned on him – perhaps more than any other player at Arsenal. The bustling bull shrugging off desperate lunges, peering forward and considering options – does he continue the run or does he slip in a team mate who is in the process of a lung-bursting run to keep up with him?

These flashes of a power bestowed by some ethereal entity are the main images that come to most when asked to recall ‘The Ox’.  His eye for goal, his ability to open up play with a quick turn of the heel, his willingness to track back and his hunger for possession. He never hides. His goal against Monaco in the first leg of our tragic Last16 Champions League exit was technically superb. He curled it beyond the flailing Monaco keeper and was responsible for being the answer to questions posed by an imperious Monaco defence.

The problem with The Ox can be found in the five minutes after the goal. His goal gifted a little light to proceedings, giving the Second Leg a whole different perspective. Alex then shows an incredible lack of awareness by gifting the ball to a Monaco midfielder, who then slips in Carrasco to thrust the final dagger in our European aspirations.

People will remember his goal. People remember the excitement he brings when he is on the ball. People ultimately remember his potential which is shown only in intermittent bursts. Shouldn’t we be measuring his performances with the same strict barometer to which we tally Wilshere, Ramsey and Walcott’s stock? Seeing as these players have roughly been playing first team football for the same time, then the yardstick to which these players are stood up against should be the same height – shouldn’t it?

One thing these fine players have in common – aside from having enough talent to commandeer the Premier League for quite some time – is a long-term affair with the treatment table. Theo has missed seasons with shoulder, hamstring and ankle injuries, not to mention his knee. Jack has missed half of this season already. Ramsey had the misfortune to meet the studs of Ryan Shawcross and took the best part of a year to recover.

The Ox has never made more than 25 appearances in a League season, which was back in 2012-13. He has made just 78 appearances in the finery of the red and white since joining in 2011.

Regular injuries cause development to take on a staccato-like movement.  Only with regular playing time can a player finally start to reap the ripe fruits which hang from the potential tree. Training with luminaries such as Ozil and Sanchez help – as does advice and training methods from the sage Arsene Wenger. A player needs to become battle-hardened though. To periodically set foot in the cauldron of competition and duke it out with players intent on nabbing the ball and your pride.

The speed of the game cannot be artificially recreated, nor can those fleeting nano-seconds when you are presented with a decision which could alter outcomes. So many variables hang on the decision and so many pressures can affect the choice that the player makes. It is with frequent matches that a player can finely hone his mind into instantly choosing the best outcome based on the variables that are presented.

The Ox hasn’t had the opportunity to play a run of matches which could evidence his burgeoning talent and also finely tune what tools he has at his disposal. His future is destined at central-midfield – Arsene Wenger has confirmed this – and he can most definitely adapt to cement a place there. At this current moment though, he wouldn’t get in our first-team if all were fit.

Wilshere and Walcott – despite impressing since returning from lengthy injury – cannot command a starting slot. Their performances toward the tail-end of the season were the boost to see us over the line as energy levels flagged and eyes drifted toward the FA Cup. If their performances weren’t enough to oust certain players, then The Ox hasn’t a hope currently.

His problems have been conspicuous from the start, but excusable through youth and inexperience. A tendency to lose the ball, a willingness to run into blind alleys, a distinct lack of awareness regarding what is around him and his decision-making sometimes suffers. Sanchez often loses the ball, but when he scores twenty goals in a season, it is a lot easier to ignore. We turned the other cheek to a lot of this as his occasional bursts into the box were such a joy to watch. Invariably, they often came at a point when our play slowed down and his streak of excitement was in such contrast to what was on show. It lit up the match like he himself was comprised of neon.

His drawbacks though, have never been quelled. He still exhibits these flaws in every match. He certainly cannot be trusted to play in the centre – especially if half of us think Jack Wilshere isn’t fit to play there! The clamour for The Ox to start games though is deafening. He represents the swashbuckling style to which we have become accustomed to. He also has become the symbol to which the media are familiar with – blinkers.

We paper over his faults as he brings with him hope that we can overturn a deficit. If only The Ox would just flick on the afterburners and dash into the box, then we really could change the game. All too often though, he is the one guilty of losing possession and leaving us in the pickle which we all expect him to rescue us from.

He desperately needs to iron out the flaws. He needs to develop. What is mandatory is that he needs to maintain fitness – more so than Theo and Jack. He has never played a full season. We cannot ascertain whether he will be able to maintain high performance levels throughout a domestic season as we have never witnessed him do just that.

There is a reason why Wenger and Gooners keep the faith with Alex. He could reach the higher echelons that superstars need to elevate themselves to. Our fitness record in the second half of the season has dramatically improved, so with that may bring a string of appearances from the boys who are always nursing an ailment. If that can happen, then we may see those moments in The Ox’s highlights reel which give him such a high regard.

No one doubts his potential. However, if it is time for Jack, Theo and Gibbs to step up and finally bring to the fore what they have for so long promised – then The Ox shouldn’t escape the ultimatum. Next season is time to shine.

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