By Greg Stobart
If Roy Hodgson was looking for a player who could come on as a substitute and make an instant impact at Euro 2012, then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inclusion in the England squad is no surprise given the impression he has made with Arsenal this season.
The 18-year-old has been named in the 23-man squad for this summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine, representing a daring but exciting decision from the new Three Lions manager.
It is a risk because Oxlade-Chamberlain could be a ‘wasted’ squad place if he does not feature, like Theo Walcott when he was given a month-long holiday during the 2006 World Cup.
Walcott had not even played a game for Arsenal that season, while Oxlade-Chamberlain has made 26 appearances for the Gunners this term and shown he has both the quality and temperament to shine on the big stage.
A far more suitable comparison is that of Michael Owen, the young, up-and-coming starlet the supporters were desperate to see at France 1998. The striker, 18 at the time, forced his way into the team and was England’s player of the tournament, scoring that memorable solo goal against Argentina in the second round.
It would be a stretch to expect a similar impact from Oxlade-Chamberlain, but his movement, touch, pace and composure make him far more than a precocious talent. Yes, he has much to learn but his quality has been evident, not least in the Champions League last 16 second leg clash against AC Milan.
The son of former Stoke and Portsmouth player Mark Chamberlain, Alex’s imminent first full international cap will result in the fourth father-and-son pairing to represent England. Mark has sensibly mapped out his son’s career path, having pushed consistently for a move to Arsenal from Southampton, despite rival interest from the Manchester clubs and Liverpool.
"He is a magnificent player," Arsenal legend Ray Parlour told Goal.com. "He is one of those footballers who is an impact player. He can play central midfield, he can play out on the left wing or right wing. He is so versatile and yet he is superb in lots of different positions."
It was that talent that convinced Arsene Wenger, who is infamously frugal, to agree a fee with Southampton that could rise beyond £15million if all of the clauses - including England appearances - are triggered.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s debut as a substitute in the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford provided the most vivid reminder imaginable of the difference in standards behind the top of the Premier League and League One, where he made his name.
But he has grown over the course of the season, the compact midfielder showing his versatility and ability to handle the physical demands of football, skipping past defenders when they try to cut him down to size.
Standing under six feet tall, he is noticeably stockier than Walcott was at the same age and seems better equipped to handle the physical attention that will come his way from defenders eager to impose themselves on him.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is a rough diamond that is becoming more polished with every appearance. England’s opponents at Euro 2012 will know little about him, and Hodgson will hope that his unpredictability to catch out the Three Lions opponents this summer.
As a wild-card, he is far more Michael Owen than Theo Walcott. In a squad that has caused much debate, Hodgson has got this one right.
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