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Record-breaking wonderkid, hailed as a future great by club following precocious Champions League debut, has the attributes to overcome struggles that hampered his team-mate

COMMENT
By Wayne Veysey at Emirates Stadium


With Arsene Wenger following up his Uefa dugout suspension with a self-imposed media ban, it was left to his long-time assistant Pat Rice to deliver the verdict on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

The message would have doubtless been the same whether it came from 'Le Boss' or the equally grizzled Rice. Oxlade-Chamberlain, who turned 18 only a month ago, “has a great future ahead of him,” the Arsenal No.2 opined.

Much of the attention on the teenager has focused on his obvious similarities to another Southampton old boy Theo Walcott in terms of background, price tag, stature and precocity. To make the connection even greater, they are even being played by Wenger in the same position.

But Oxlade-Chamberlain possesses a self-assurance on the pitch that Walcott, for all his match-winning qualities, still sometimes lacks.

It was most evident just eight minutes into his Champions League debut in the way he intelligently ran from his right flank station to take Alex Song’s cleverly weighted pass on his chest, charged into the box and deftly finished with his left foot in a manner of which Ian Wright would have been proud.

The movement, touch, speed and absolute certainty of the finish hinted at far more than the precociousness of youth. Here is a player with the all-round game to become not just an Arsenal regular but an England one too, a player who Wenger believes will eventually make his mark in a more central role, orchestrating events behind the main striker.

By whizzing into the record books as the youngest English goalscorer in the Champions League at the age of 18 years and 44 days, Oxlade-Chamberlain pushed Walcott and Jack Wilshere into second and third place.

This demonstrates not only the prodigiousness of the three young guns but how willing Wenger is to provide the stage for youth to flourish.

OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN v WALCOTT



Aug 15, 1993
DATE OF BIRTH
March 16, 1989
16 yrs, 11 months, 26 days SENIOR DEBUT 16 yrs, 4 months, 21 days
16 yrs, 11 months, 26 days
FIRST SENIOR GOAL
16 yrs, 7 months, 2 days
17 yrs, 11 months, 24 days
JOINED ARSENAL 16 yrs, 10 months, 4 days
18 yrs, 0 months, 13 days AGE ON ARSENAL DEBUT 17 yrs, 5 months, 3 days
18 yrs, 1 month, 5 days FIRST ARSENAL GOAL
17 yrs, 11 months, 9 days
18 yrs, 1 month, 5 days FIRST EUROPEAN GOAL
18 yrs, 7 months, 7 days

Oxlade-Chamberlain attracted strong interest from Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool in the January window after a three-month spell in which he progressed almost indecently from Southampton fringe player to one of the most accomplished game-breakers in the lower leagues.

But the bright teenager, who is said by close friends to be as likely caught doing the crossword as  flicking through the sports pages, hankered after a move to Arsenal. A late intervention by Sir Alex Ferguson in January advising him to stay at Southampton until the summer postponed the switch, and the club, aware they had a rare talent on their hands, raised the asking price during long and fraught negotiations.

Oxlade-Chamberlain and his camp risked Southampton’s ire by going public to force through the transfer but the newly promoted Championship club eventually caved in at a price that is believed will rise way beyond £15 million should he achieve all the performance-related add-ons, such as England appearances, that make up the deal.

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 the player whose path has been sensibly mapped out by his father Mark Chamberlain, the former England international, has proved he is a quick learner, first in his first senior start in the 3-1 win over Shrewsbury Town last week and now on his Champions League debut.

He is diminutive but 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 cut the talented new boy down to size.

He will have to stay grounded too, but the signs are good. Oxlade-Chamberlain and his father went to Barnet’s Underhill ground on Monday night to watch the Arsenal reserves, some of whom have quickly become his friends. Like Walcott, he speaks confidently and maturely, and has all the hallmarks of being a marketing man’s dream.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is a young man in a hurry. Wenger has not said as much in public but it is understood that he has earmarked the youngster for around 30 appearances this season, many of which will be as an impact substitute.

Walcott, who missed out with a minor knee injury last night but sat beanie-hatted in the stands watching events with his girlfriend, knows he has competition from the latest thoroughbred to be nurtured at the Arsenal finishing school.

And the Arsenal fans, who have suffered such a wretched few months, finally had something to lift the gloom, despite another patchy defensive performance.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is still a rough diamond that needs some polishing but the 60,000 souls in attendance last night will feel another star has been born.

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