When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left my dear Southampton F.C I was of mixed opinion: whilst I tried to believe all that said £15m (£12m+£3m) was a great deal for the club, considering he was yet to kick a ball outside of the third tier of English football, and I wrestled with the view that we had kept our prized asset in the form of 23-year old Adam Lallana, I couldn’t help but feel disgruntled that Arsenal had taken another one of our own.
Watching him feature sporadically for Arsenal – 43 minutes of Premier League football before the Manchester United game – did nothing to aid my annoyance either; however, his age, the Wenger factor and his incredible displays for the England u-21 side, including a hat-trick against Iceland a month after coming off the bench to contribute with as many assists against Israel, did much to remedy my grievance.
As Wenger had alluded to, “In 2012, at the beginning of the year, [Alex] will play games,” it seems that the next 12 months, for Arsenal – if not England too, or maybe even Great Britain – will indeed, be the year of the Ox: in Gervinho’s absence, on international duty with the Ivory Coast, and Thierry Henry side-lined, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain made his first start at home to Manchester United, with a performance deemed by most as man-of-the-match worthy.
Having made his debut back in August, in the 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford, the Southampton academy product saw his game time limited to the League Cup and the Champions League, scoring in both; however, as Arsenal continued to fail to provide adequate support for Robin Van Persie and a depletion in the striking ranks taking its toll, Arsene Wenger delivered on his promise and Chamberlain played 73 minutes of the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.
Yet, for many – including Robin Van Persie, who was seen to mouth “no” in disbelief – 73 minutes wasn’t enough: his withdrawal, with just less than 20 minutes left, was met with a chorus of boos as the electronic board was raised by Mike Dean’s fourth official to indicate Arshavin was to replace the u-21 international, and a refrain of cheers and applause in recognition of a stellar display as the 18-year old made his way off the pitch.
The substitution was lamented by all, understandably so, because for much of the game Chamberlain was the only impetus to Arsenal’s attacks, creating more goal-scoring opportunities than any other player on the pitch, 4, with one being converted by Robin Van Persie, which was the equaliser for Arsenal, after a precise and intelligently executed counter attack. His replacement, Arshavin, was at fault for the winner: failing to stop Valencia from advancing up the pitch, the Russian could only look on as the United winger provided the assist for Welbeck’s goal 9 minutes from time.
It was only the third time in Premier League history that Manchester United had done the double on Arsenal and the result meant that The Gunners were on fewer points after 22 games for the first time since the 1995/96 season; yet, for many Arsenal fans, they felt Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s presence until the final whistle would’ve made the difference and his performance was neatly summed up by thisisfutbol editor Harry Cloke, “Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. What a player! Already looking like the player Theo should have become.”