Every month the Arsenal Magazine brings you the complete Gunners guide to members of our first team squad.
This time it's the turn of England international Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Name: Alex Oxlade-ChamberlainPosition: ForwardSquad number: 15Born: Portsmouth, England - August 15, 1993Joined Arsenal: from Southampton on August 8, 2011Previous club(s): SouthamptonArsenal debut: v Manchester United (a) - August 28, 2011Arsenal honours: FA Cup winner 2014 & 2015, Community Shield winner 2014 & 2015England caps: 24 (5 goals)Twitter: @Alex_OxChambo
"He's got to believe he's top class"
"It's only Ray Parlour."
The four words that defined the Arsenal legend’s career.
Not as technically gifted as those Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry types around him, Ray more than made up for it with his passion and desire to win every time he set foot on the field. That’s not to say he couldn't compete with the best players in Europe – far from it.
Highbury regulars would have witnessed that same player who had won back possession deep inside his own half racing into the opposing box to find the back of the net, and scoring stunning goals against the likes of Sparta Prague and Valencia. Affectionately known as the Romford Pele, Ray was appreciated by Arsenal fans across the world, but his work-rate and dedication often went under the radar of opposing supporters, hence Tim Lovejoy's infamous outburst at the 2002 FA Cup final.
On that unforgettable afternoon, Chelsea's players seemed to underestimate Ray too, as they backed off and allowed the midfielder to bend the best of his 32 strikes for Arsenal beyond Carlo Cudicini on the Gunners' way to lifting an eighth FA Cup, and the ninth of the 12 trophies he would win with Arsenal. The Blues would make the same costly mistake again, this time in the 2015 Community Shield. Cesar Azpilicueta, knowing it had been six months since Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had scored his last goal, afforded the England midfielder too much space before the 22-year-old arrowed an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
Thirteen years separated the two very similar incidents – but how alike were the two Arsenal midfielders involved? "He probably scores more goals than me and gets into better positions in the box," Ray says. "I was a bit more of a ball-winner compared to Alex because he's got such a good turn of pace. His final ball could probably be a bit better, but he’s a young lad and he can only improve on that.
The main difference is that I was a bit more of a ball-winner and he’s a bit more creative. "He’s had a lot of injuries and that’s been his problem. The injuries haven’t helped his development. He's had spells in the team where he's done really well but then he can't get back into the team because he's got injured. I didn't get injured as much when I was his age because I was a bit sturdier, but he’s a very good player.
"On his day he can be excellent. He's strong, can go past players, he's got that change of pace and he can score goals as well. Obviously we've seen Jack Wilshere go out on loan to play on a regular basis, and I think Alex needs to get some games under his belt here as well. "If he does get in the side and does well, Arse?ne Wenger's the sort of character who wouldn’t drop you for the sake of someone else. He'd let you have a run of games if you can, stay fit, and then if you’re performing well every single week then you know your name’s on the team sheet. That's the most important thing. Alex needs to get back to playing on a regular basis and hopefully he can stay clear of injuries."
In addition to getting himself in the best shape physically, Alex also has to overcome a mental hurdle in order to fulfil his top-class potential. Wenger revealed the midfielder suffers from a lack of self belief, and Ray understands how being so self-critical can affect a player’s confidence.
"You've got to have belief in yourself," he says. "You're not always going to play well, but as long as you show that effort in games, the crowd will respond to that. Confidence is probably a problem for him. He doesn't believe in himself enough and unfortunately he doesn't feel he's a top class player, which I think he definitely is.
"Sometimes it's in your head, but if you believe you're a top player you have to go out and perform every week. If you make a mistake, don’t let it worry you. People like Alexis make mistakes but the next moment he's chasing the ball back and then scoring a goal.
"A lot of players have to look at their final pass and making that right decision. I played with players like Dennis Bergkamp who very rarely made the wrong decision.
"That’s always important in football – that when you’re in a position where you could shoot or pass, you make the right decision at the right time.
"He will improve on that with games and, because he’s so young, he could be a top-class player for Arsenal and for England if he gets it right."
Even though he has been in north London for five years, there is still a debate as to where Alex's best position is. Like Ray was, the 23-year-old has been used predominantly on the right, but the former Gunner believes Alex’s future could be in central midfield.
"I played with wingers like Marc Overmars who was quick and even scored 16 goals one season," he begins. "When I played on the right-hand side we had Freddie Ljungberg on the left, a late runner into the box who scored so many vital goals.
"Robert Pires was a totally different player, so I don’t think there’s anyone who Alex reminds me of especially. He’s got Marc’s energy but he can also adapt his game to play with that three in the midfield. His strongest position might turn out to be as one of those three in midfield. That’s an option for him, but the players I played with are probably nowhere near his type of player.
"I enjoyed playing in my era and the game’s changed a bit, but it’s still a game of football at the end of the day. You’ve still got to show the passion and desire to win the game and make sure the fans know that every single week. If Alex does that I’m sure he’ll star for many years to come."
FIVE KEY MOMENTS IN ALEX'S CAREER SO FAR
Signing for ArsenalAugust 8, 2011
The buzz around Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain began almost as soon as the 16 year old made his Southampton debut in March 2010, and it only got louder when the talented youngster helped the Saints gain promotion back to the Championship in 2010/11.
He wouldn’t be around to experience the second tier of English football, however, because in August 2011, just days before his 18th birthday, he became an Arsenal player. Although the precise fee was kept under wraps, the Saints trumpeted that it was “one of the biggest deals in Championship history” and that the £12 million Arsenal had paid for Theo Walcott in 2006 had been “blown out of the water”.
That didn’t matter to Arsene Wenger.
“He is an exciting young player who will provide us with creativity and an offensive quality,” said the manager. “Alex is a versatile player who can play in a number of positions. He can play as an attacking centre midfielder, or wide left and right. Alex is a perceptive passer of the ball, has a great understanding of the game and looks to be a very good team player.”
It was high praise indeed but, unfortunately, there wasn’t anything very exciting about Alex’s debut from an Arsenal perspective – he made his first appearance from the bench as an injury and suspension-hit Gunners team lost 8-2 at Manchester United.
At least, from here, the only way was up.
First Arsenal goalSeptember 20, 2011
Arsenal fans didn’t have to wait long to get a glimpse of what the Ox was capable of – his first goal for the club came on his full debut and, although it was ‘only’ a League Cup clash against Shrewsbury Town, his all-round performance was highly encouraging. Shrewsbury were no pushovers.
The League Two high-fliers actually opened the scoring on 16 minutes and were making the Gunners sweat, but Kieran Gibbs headed an equaliser – his first goal for the club – on 33 minutes, and as the game wore on it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who was pulling the strings.
First he sent in a fizzing cross that Marouane Chamakh couldn’t quite get on the end of. Then, taking matters into his own hands, he unleashed the sort of shot from 25 yards out that would become his trademark – and it squirmed under Shrewsbury keeper Ben Smith to give Arsenal the lead.
Oh, and then he nearly repeated the trick, although this time his blazing shot from a tight angle hit Smith so hard it bounced out for a corner before the keeper could even move – it was more of a deflection than a save.
The match finished 3-1 after Yossi Benayoun added a third but, with no disrespect to the Israel international, or to Kieran, there was only one goalscorer the Gunners fans were talking about as they filed out of the Emirates on this early autumn evening.
Performance v AC MilanMarch 6, 2012
Fast, technically gifted and not afraid to run at defenders, the Ox had shown what he could do out wide during the early months of the 2011/12 season, notably with a rousing display during a 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United in January 2012.
But there was a twist in his development when, with Arsenal four goals down from the first leg against AC Milan in the Champions League Round of 16, Arse?ne Wenger chose Oxlade-Chamberlain to play in central midfield for a game they had to win by five clear goals.
Appropriately, the youngster was at the heart of Arsenal’s stirring comeback. With barely five minutes on the clock he fired across a corner from which Laurent Koscielny headed the opening goal and later, after Tomas Rosicky had scored the second, he burst into Milan’s box to win a penalty when he was blocked off by Daniel Mesbah. Robin van Persie converted to send the Gunners three up just before half time. Unfortunately, the Ox was hampered by injury in the second half and eventually went off with 15 minutes remaining.
Arsenal couldn’t find the all-important fourth goal but Wenger was impressed with his whole team, and one man in particular: “For a guy who has never played at the top level in central midfield, he started in a Champions League game and he did well. When he got the ball, you always thought something could happen.”
Goal v BrazilJune 2, 2013
It didn’t take long for Alex to come to the attention of England manager Roy Hodgson, and after a series of impressive performances for the Under-18s he was called into the senior squad on the eve of Euro 2012.
He made his debut as a second- half substitute during a 1-0 win over Norway on May 26, and started in a 1-0 win over Belgium a week later. He was off to Poland and Ukraine, and he started England’s first match, a 1-1 draw with France. A couple more substitute appearances followed, but it was the following season when he really made his mark, scoring in two big wins over San Marino before finding the net at one of the most famous stadiums on Earth.
England had been invited to play Brazil to mark the reopening of the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio as the country geared up for the 2016 World Cup. It was a lively game, with Joe Hart keeping the hosts at bay in the first half before Fred opened the scoring 12 minutes into the second half.
Brazil where threatening to run away with it as Neymar pulled the strings, but the Ox had other ideas, rounding off a fine team move that he had instigated by smashing Wayne Rooney’s lay-off past Julio Cesar.
With little more than 10 minutes to go Rooney put England ahead and on course for a famous win, only for Paulinho to equalise late on, but there were plenty of positives for England, and Alex was one of the biggest.
Goal v ChelseaAugust 2, 2015
There’s no denying that Alex has suffered with injuries that have interrupted his development – he missed the beginning and end of 2013/14, the World Cup, much of last season and Euro 2016 – but when he’s fit and firing he’s quick to remind Arsenal fans what he’s capable of.
Last season’s Community Shield is a case in point. Having finished the 2014/15 campaign with an assist in the FA Cup final over Aston Villa and enjoyed a strong pre-season, he took his place in the starting line-up at Wembley to face Premier League champions Chelsea – and he wasted little time in exacting some revenge on the Blues for the pain they had inflicted on the Gunners over recent seasons. Theo Walcott picked the ball up centrally and spotted the Ox on the right-hand edge of the penalty area, although Chelsea had sufficient numbers in defence that there appeared to be little danger when the ball reached his feet.
But speed of movement is one of Alex’s greatest strengths, and he cut inside the floundering Cesar Azpilicueta before flashing a shot into the roof of the net past Thibaut Courtois. It was a typical Oxlade-Chamberlain goal.
All we hope is that he stays fit so we can see a lot more of them this season.
Arsene Wenger on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
On his early years at Arsenal... My experience shows that it is good sometimes to be positive and patient. I was very patient with him at the start – it is important sometimes to hold them back a little bit. When he was younger opponents pushed him off the ball too easily. But he built up his strength and endurance, and that is important at the top level of course.
On his strengths...He gives us pace, power and penetration. When you look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it is difficult to find what he has not got. That’s why I would like him to get to wherever he can go. Maybe he doesn’t completely believe in himself how good he can be? That is the final step for him.
I see Alex train every day. He is dedicated, focused, and hungry. But his dad said he lacks a bit of self-belief and I can confirm that because he is very critical of himself. That’s positive and a sign of top-level sportsmen, but you have to find the right balance of being not happy with what you do without harming the confidence.
On the season ahead... It’s a very important season for him. He was out for a long, long time last year. He didn’t go to the European Championships with England like he should have done if he was fit. So we have to be cautious, and get him through to the start of this season because it is very important for him.
The Verdict: Nigel Adkins
Nigel Adkins was Southampton manager when Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain had his first run in senior football, at the age of 17.
When I joined Southampton in 2010, Alex was one of our young players, and you could see immediately that he was a young boy who had a lot of talent and fantastic acceleration.
We changed a few things round and we put him in the team, but at that age he couldn’t last a game. But you put them in to give them a chance – usually he would play for an hour or so and then come off. That was in League One, but his attributes were there for all to see. Alex adapted very well to the way we wanted to play. In fact we actually changed the formation on a couple of occasions – I remember a game against Manchester United in the FA Cup third round at St Mary’s, we changed to a diamond formation and Alex played on the left – he played really, really well.
The strength and fitness programme was very, very important for Alex. It meant he could compete with senior pros when he was 17 or 18. We had a great fitness coach at Southampton called Nick Harvey, who was actually with the England Under-21s when they won the Toulon tournament this summer. Nick had been at Southampton for a long time so he’d set up the strength and conditioning programmes. He was there when Gareth Bale was there.
The younger players can have the technical ability but they’ve also got to have the physical ability to compete, especially with players in League One when you’re a young boy. And likewise you’ve got to have those physical attributes so you don’t break down with injury, which is so important as well.
"We had a celebration party at the end of the season, after winning promotion to the Championship, and I remember he was dancing with my mum on the dancefloor!"
I got on really well with Alex. Obviously he was only a young boy and it was a step up for him, but he coped with it very well. People will highlight his father being an ex-professional himself, so obviously he had an insight into the game. But we’d like to think that we surrounded him with a good environment, a good culture that allowed him to come and express himself and to fit in well – and he did that.
It wasn’t long before Premier League clubs were interested and, I’ll be honest with you, we were a little bit surprised. We thought he would have been better playing for us in the Championship because one would have imagined a young player leaving a League One club, moving to a top-end Premier League – which Arsenal is – that he probably wouldn’t get that many games. But it’s been great to see him go and play in the Premier League and obviously at international level for England as well.
I remember in pre-season I had to keep walking down the pitch with him all the time because there was that much speculation that I had to try and get his head focused on playing and just keep playing. But I’ll tell you what, we had a celebration party at the end of the season, after winning promotion to the Championship, and I remember he was dancing with my mum on the dancefloor. There’s one for you
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