A series of increasingly mature and effective displays mean the Three Lions boss need look no further than Gunners' teenage sensation to solve the stagnation of English wingers
By Josh Clarke at Emirates Stadium
In the 7-1 dismantling of Blackburn, for the very first time this season, Arsenal have delivered the kind of 90-minute idyll that their philosophy is supposed to produce.
A nonplussed Arsene Wenger described it as a performance "guided by the way we wanted to play football", yet in principle it was much more. Arsenal displayed a style, ruthlessness and dynamism in the final third that harked back to the heyday of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.
For causation, Wenger need look no further than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Capitalising on the Africa Cup of Nations-induced absence of Gervinho, the £12 million (€14.4m) teenage acquisition has caught the eye with a series of increasingly effective performances, culminating in this weekend, where his transition into first-name-on-team-sheet territory was cemented.
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Against Blackburn, Oxlade-Chamberlain was captivating, scoring a brace that made light of
Arsenal’s inefficiency in front of goal against Bolton. His first finish saw him sneak in off the left flank, collecting a sumptuous Robin van Persie
pass before using his momentum to coolly round Paul Robinson and slot home. His second saw him soak up the energy of an onrushing Theo Walcott, killing a slaloming run that seemed to have gone off the tracks to send a composed finish inside the near post.
The coolness with which Oxlade-Chamberlain finished those moves was augmented throughout with natural athleticism and invention on the ball that belie his age. The winger can beat his man for out-and-out pace or he can do him with a few step-overs. He can ghost in unnoticed beyond a back four or he can step inside and play. He can pass, finish, tackle, has tactical nous and has made a champion of himself in these austere times at the Emirates.
There were two episodes of play that will probably make it nowhere on the jam-packed highlights reel which illustrate this multi-faceted side to Oxlade-Chamberlain’s game.
Firstly, after a second-half Gunners counter had lost its thrust, the winger slowed the ball down and, with an explosive burst of pace and trickery, went beyond his full-back before standing up an inch-perfect ball to the far post which Arteta narrowly volleyed over.
Secondly, the winger cut in from the left, spraying the ball out to Francis Coquelin who duly obliged to feed Van Persie for his third. Both examples, combined with the goals, fully indicate Oxlade-Chamberlain’s pragmatic versatility.
To be blunt, Oxlade-Chamberlain is already everything into which Walcott should have developed under Arsene Wenger’s tuition. It is telling that one of his important contributions of the last few weeks was coaxing an improved Walcott performance out of its shell this weekend. The fact that he is overshadowing the man who has already trodden the exact same path as him speaks volumes.
|OX IN THE BOX
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|65'||Oxlade-Chamberlain for England? It will surely be hard for Fabio Capello to ignore the teenager after this display. He’s been sensational this afternoon and I don’t think I’d be wrong to say that the teenager has coaxed the best out of Theo Walcott too.|
| PLAYER RATING
|9.0||Another intelligent display that will surely cement his place in the first team. Married guile with brains, combining well with Van Persie numerous times.|
On this form, and bearing in mind the creative void left by Wayne Rooney’s enforced absence at the start of Euro 2012, calls for Oxlade-Chamberlain to be introduced into the England senior fold have gathered traction and, today, widespread credence.
Unbeaten for the entirety of the calendar year, Capello’s England seemed rejuvenated after adopting a new, fluid system which allowed natural wide men to flourish either side of Darren Bent or Wayne Rooney. And, for a while, there seemed to be a lavish excess of talent for the two slots.
At the time, it seemed a straight battle between Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, Adam Johnson and Walcott for the two slots – a meritocracy based upon particularly proficient spells each of the quartet was enjoying for his respective club side.
However, fast forward a few months and the momentum Downing had amassed at Villa has been negated by alarming anonymity at Anfield, while Young has struggled to break free of the Old Trafford treatment room, Johnson the substitutes’ bench and Walcott his own frustrating inconsistency.
If it were solely a question of graduation from subordinate rank, Oxlade-Chamberlain would still get the nod. Two assists in his first start for England Under-21s against Azerbaijan in September were swiftly succeeded by a game-changing second-half cameo which saw him clock three assists against Israel, a hat-trick in the 3-0 demolition of Iceland in Reykjavik and a man-of-the-match performance in the return 5-0 battering.
The teenager’s newfound influence at club level only adds substantial gravitas to the consideration of his promotion.
When quizzed about his young charge’s England prospects, Wenger swatted aside the suggestion, joking that Capello currently has a lot of problems to deal with at the moment. The England boss certainly has some big political decisions to make concerning team selection in the prelude to the Euros. At least the dilemma offered up by Oxlade-Chamberlain is little more than a no-brainer.