The recent situation at Arsenal could be described as chaotic.
But somewhat understated amongst all the frantic mix of planes, banners, the manager’s future and the respective contract rumoues of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil is the situation of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.
Like Sanchez and Özil and others at the club, the ‘Ox’s’ contract runs out next year. Reports are that he is unhappy at either not yet being offered a new contract or the details of the offer, depending on who you believe, and is looking to leave the club this summer.
Perhaps this is not unsurprising, Oxlade-Chamberlain has been at Arsenal nearly six years and this month was still being described by Arsene Wenger as “a very promising player”. Promising after six years at the club would seem to suggest something has gone wrong with his development at Arsenal.
This is a player who burst on to the scene with Southampton at a tender age of 17, making such an impact during the 2010/11 season that Arsenal snapped him up for an initial fee of around £12 million.
Yet despite the hype surrounding his transfer, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s beginnings at his new home were a rather subdued affair.
It took almost two seasons for him to play as many minutes in the Arsenal first team as he had for his former club at that point; there is logic to this though.
The step up from League One to the Premier League at seventeen years old is huge, even for a player with the obvious skill set of Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The process of bedding in to Wenger’s – and by proxy the club’s – style, as well as established players ahead of him would all suggest that at the time ‘the Ox’ was seen as a player for the future.
Naturally at this stage of his career the majority of his appearances were as substitute or being substituted. In his first two seasons at Arsenal he completed 90 minutes on only five occasions in 59 appearances.
A more curious aspect of the first two seasons is the number of different positions that Oxlade-Chamberlain played in those appearances – attacking midfielder, central midfielder, left wing, left midfield, right wing, right midfield and even right back.
It wasn’t until December 2012 that he played in six consecutive games in the same position. How much more difficult is it for a young player to develop – and ultimately assimilate – when being asked to play 60 minutes in one position, 20 minutes another in the next match, and so.
In what should have been a breakthrough season 2013/14 was arguably a write off, missing much of the season through injury, though there was time to add defensive midfield position to his repertoire – this time against Coventry in the FA Cup.
The following season looked as if Oxlade-Chamberlain might finally establish himself in the team where after being mainly used as a substitute early on; from September 2014 to January 2015 he completed 90 minutes in 12 matches primarily on the right wing.
Just as it looked as he might establish himself, injuries struck again and he would only make four more appearances that season.
Last season again injuries were prevalent, disrupting his season each time it was getting going. The season was restricted to 33 appearances in all competitions – but only around half of that in actual playing time.
This season, Oxlade-Chamberlain has so far stayed injury free but has still only completed 90 minutes on five occasions.
Again as previous he has been played in a variety of positions, recently but not exclusively in the centre of midfield. Unluckily perhaps for the player, this has come when the furore surrounding his manager has reached crescendo levels and the team’s performances as a whole have dropped.
Finally free of injuries, at times he has appeared a frustrated and disconsolate figure.
Throughout his six years at Arsenal Wenger appears to have used Oxlade-Chamberlain as a jack of all trades, being shoehorned by his manager in to whatever position has been needed rather than ever given the opportunity to nail down a particular slot.
It can be said that a good player can adapt and play in numerous positions, but surely first the player has to establish themselves in their most natural position – to allow them to develop into that role before assimilating other positions.
It appears that this 23-year-old has never had that opportunity.
Wenger sets great store in loyalty and his comment at the same time of calling the Ox promising was to state his disappointment in the Ox’s reported unhappiness due to the club’s loyalty to the player during his injuries.
Every coin has a flip side and whilst Oxlade-Chamberlain has been unlucky with injuries, the one club where this is not surprising is Arsenal.
The injury record of players at Arsenal is poor enough for serious questions to be asked, as it has been so often, whether the training and physio programmes at the club contribute to the length of time players, including Oxlade-Chamberlain spend on the sidelines.
Ultimately, a player who showed so much promise in 2010/2011 with Southampton is still being described as promising by a manager who appears to have never decided what exactly his player’s best position is.
The Ox has had poor runs of form but when you are in and out of the team, frequently in different positions, how easy is it to gain momentum, match the team’s rhythm and ultimately gain consistency and form?
At 23 and with 25 international caps to his name, Oxlade-Chamberlain has a bright future, but arguably not under Wenger.
A move to play under a manager who is prepared to trust him with consistent game time and allow him to make a position his own might be what the Ox needs.
There should be plenty of takers.