As a particularly high-profile player for one of the biggest footballing nations in the world, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is understandably a massive draw, wherever he goes.
That was undeniably true during Arsenal’s summer tour of Asia, where the attacking midfielder - who turned 20 on August 15 - was very much a man in demand from the local fans and media alike. Arsenal’s last stop of the 2013 tour was Saitama in Japan, home to the high-flying J League side Urawa Red Diamonds.
English football is highly regarded in that part of the world, and the Japanese thirst for knowledge and desire to improve every aspect of their footballing set-up and infrastructure means they eagerly absorb all the guidance an international player like Oxlade-Chamberlain can give.
"There are great players all over the world, and once they start coming through, people will take more notice of those leagues and national teams. Then that will improve the leagues"
That includes both practical demonstrations - such as the coaching session - and personal advice on how to be the best. So after the training drills, Oxlade-Chamberlain - speaking before the injury which has ruled him out of recent matches - met with members of the press, and fielded questions about the state of Japanese football, his position in the team, and tthis season – among other things.
We were the only UK-based media present, and here we reproduce the best of his answers, on a variety of topics.
Alex, how was your session with the Japanese players?
It was really good. It was nice to see some good talented, young players in Japan. I’ve watched Japanese football on TV but you don’t get to see the talent that’s up and coming until you come over here. It was a good coaching session, with some good players. I was really getting into it!
What type of training did you do to improve your play during your school days?
Lots. It takes a lot of time, effort and hours to improve your game. I had thousands of training sessions, mostly on the technical side – working on my first touch, my passing, right foot, left foot, shooting and dribbling. The physical side you improve more as you get older.
What can Japan do to improve as a football nation?
I don’t know if I can answer that - I’m not exactly a football guru! I need to get better myself, and work out how England can start winning things before I worry about how Japan can improve! But I have listened to what the boss says on this subject, and he says it always starts from the young kids. Even at six or seven you need to get a good standard of coaching. You have to make it enjoyable at an early age so they learn to love playing football, but also make it effective, so they are picking up good habits.
The more good players that are produced, the more interest there will be in Japanese football. People will start watching it more once these players come through.
That’s a big difference for me between Japanese and English football. Everyone knows about English football and the England team. When I go away with the England team, we play against some teams that aren’t so renowned for their football as England are, but they have some really good players. In some cases they’re not far from what we have in the Premier League. But it comes down to opportunities, which they don’t have there compared to us in England. People know about the big leagues in the world, and they like to watch what they are familiar with. But when we played against Montenegro, for example - they have some very good players - and it’s the same in places in Asia where Arsenal have played on tour, but people don’t stop to watch those players because they don’t know about them.
"To be able to play for a team like Arsenal is a dream come true. It’s a massive football club with great players, a great manager, great staff and of course a great fanbase"
So I think there are great players all over the world, and once they start coming through, people will take more notice of those leagues and national teams. Then that will improve the leagues as the big players will want to play there. It will take a bit of time, but from what I have seen, Japan are well on the way there, so hopefully it won’t take too long. Anyway that’s just my opinion. Don’t take my word for it, you would be better off asking the boss!
Do you take pride in playing for Arsenal? What does the Club mean to you?
Definitely I take pride. To be able to play for a team like Arsenal is a dream come true. It’s a massive football club with great players, a great manager, great staff and of course a great fanbase. It’s an honour to represent Arsenal always, and especially when you come away to somewhere like Asia and see how big the support is across the world. It makes you realise how big a deal it is to be an Arsenal player, so of course I take pride in that. Hopefully I can continue to play for Arsenal for many years.
How has Ryo settled into life at Arsenal?
He’s a great character in the dressing room. He can be quiet, but at the same time he has an exuberance about him and he makes people smile. He’s one of the nicest people I know, definitely. There is not one person in the team who could say a single bad word about Ryo. We all love him to bits. He is obviously young like myself and he’s had a bit of bad luck with injuries, just as he was getting around the first team. That’s part of every footballer’s development - we all experience injuries. It’s more unfortunate to get injuries when you are still establishing yourself though. Ryo has had bad luck with that but whenever he’s been training with us we always see the talent he has. He’s been on loan a couple of times and he’s shown really good signs then too. I think he will get a good run of games soon and prove to everyone how good he is.
What would you say to fans from abroad who are discovering Arsenal for the first time?
I just think the Club in general is run really well. It’s a really friendly club, very much a family club. At the same we have loads of crazy fans - really good away fans especially who travel everywhere with us. I think it’s just a great, friendly club, not to mention how big it is and what the name Arsenal Football Club means across the world. I think the manager has a massive part to play in that. The way that the Club is seen around the world now is largely down to our manager, and the way he represents Arsenal. That rubs off on the players and we do learn from him off the pitch too.
What have you learned from Arsène Wenger, and what are some of the things he’s said to you?
He says a lot to me. There have been a lot of wise words over the two years I’ve been here. He is a good encourager especially, when encouragement is needed. Likewise he tells you when you are not doing well enough, and what areas of your game you need to specifically work on. He gives a lot of tactical and technical advice. He’s always telling me and the other players what we can do to improve, which is what we always want to do.
If you play more in central midfield than on the wing this season, what style of player will you be?
"I try to get on the ball and make something happen. That’s usually dribbling with the ball, running at defenders, taking players on and trying to open teams up"
I think the fans know what I’m all about. I try to get on the ball and make something happen. That’s usually dribbling with the ball, running at defenders, taking players on and trying to open teams up. I have done that in the past and I will continue to do that, whether I’m playing down the wing or more centrally. I don’t know yet where I will play but I will always have that aspect to my game, wherever I play. That and my passing is something that I’ve being working on a lot and something that I’ve always thought I’m good at. Maybe I haven’t been able to show it as much on the wing because you don’t tend to get on the ball as much in that position. So if I do play more centrally at times this season, my passing is one of my strengths I think.
Do you feel you are better in central midfield or on the wing?
It’s tough to say because I haven’t played as much centrally for Arsenal as I have on the wing. I’ve grown up playing in central midfield more, and I think my natural game is more about coming inside from wide. Sometimes when I play on the wing I have to remind myself to stay out wide because I tend to naturally drift in towards the ball. In pre-season I played more in the centre of midfield and I’ve spoken to the boss about playing there. He told me about what I need to improve to be able to play there more consistently. Likewise though I’m happy on the wing - I enjoy that too. I don’t really mind where I play but I think I might become more of a central midfielder the more I mature as a player. We already have about 15 central midfielders at Arsenal so it might be more difficult to get into the team in that position! I have a few years to try and get in there though.
What do you enjoy about football more? Passing, dribbling or shooting?
I’d have to say shooting. I don’t think I do enough of it. I do like to have a shot. Arsenal are all about nice, intricate passing movements around the box, so if I shoot too much from outside the box without scoring the boss will have a go at me! I need to stick to the short passes, so I don’t shoot as much now. But I really love running with the ball too, taking players on - that’s a massive part of my game as well.
What are your goals this season personally and for the team?
The main goal for me is to make sure the team does well. That’s the most important thing. It’s a big season for us and we really want to push on from where we finished last season. We want to win something this year, there’s no hiding that. We have got the quality, and we have done for a while, but it’s all about consistency. That’s something that’s been lacking, so we need to nail that down this season and improve all over the team. We want to be successful in all competitions. When I’m on the pitch I want to make more of a contribution in terms of goals and assists.
Read the interview with Alex and more in the latest edition
What will it take to win the Premier League title?
For us it will take more consistency than we showed last year. Last season we showed glimpses of what a force we can be. We beat Bayern Munich away - it wasn’t enough to win the tie, but we showed lots of resilience and grit on the night. Performances like that helped our momentum, and we went unbeaten for a number of games after that, but we need to produce that all the way through the season. It’s very hard to maintain that level for every game, especially when you are playing three games a week, but you need to get into the habit of winning, and keep on winning. When you are playing badly you need to grind out results too. We managed to do that well at the back end of last season. We’re usually about playing good football, but towards the end of the season we showed that even when we aren’t playing well we’re able to come away with a 1-0 win away from home. That stands you in good stead so we need to produce that consistently over a season, because we have the quality.
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