Following the defeat to West Ham on the opening day of the season, the discussion concentrated heavily on who should play alongside Francis Coquelin in the center of the Arsenal midfield. Arsene Wenger had started with Aaron Ramsey alongside Coquelin in the first half of that game which, in a way, hampered the fantastic cohesion that started budding in the later parts of the previous season- then Santi Cazorla was playing as the deepest midfielder; the Andrea Pirlo position, if you like.
The second match, in fact, the second half of the first match itself, saw Santi Cazorla moved back to the center and Ramsey to the right. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were sidelined for the major portion of the 2014-15 season and as such, no noise was made at the time. But after 2 more points were dropped at home to Liverpool, the winger-backers have found their voice. The underlying question is why Aaron Ramsey is being deployed on the right, when two orthodox, fully fit wingers are waiting and raring to go.
There is an understanding to Arsene Wenger’s thought process here. And it is evident in the manner of his substitutions during a game. When trailing at Crystal Palace, Coquelin and Debuchy were the two players withdrawn. Against Liverpool, Giroud was taken off to give a different dimension to attack, and, at a very late stage, Coquelin made way for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Therein lies the problem for the young Englishman. This Arsenal squad is built on a core of 4 midfielders- Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla. Arsene Wenger sees them as essentially undroppable. He views them as the most likely players to change a game.
Around the 70th minute in the game against Liverpool, if you as an Arsenal manager wanted to bring Oxlade-Chamberlain on, you’d have to think about whom to take off. Not Mesut Ozil, he is the primary string puller in this squad; not Alexis Sanchez, he is the most capable at producing that one moment of magic; not Aaron Ramsey, his energy means at that late stage you want him on the field; and, not Santi Cazorla, because he has been running the game for the past 70 minutes and you do not want to affect that dimension. That leaves you with Theo Walcott, who had just come on, and Francis Coquelin. Now if you take Coquelin off, you’d be willing to compromise that one point to get all three. Against Liverpool, a draw is not a very bad result.
I am pretty sure that when Arsene Wenger did make the change, Chamberlain for Coquelin, he was hesitant. He would not have minded continuing with Coquelin, but he had a potential game changer at his disposal and he had to use him. At around 80 minutes, the weight of risk vs reward favored Chamberlain and he got his chance. Chamberlain, though, is sure to find himself in such a situation many times over the course of the season. And many times, the substitution will not be made. It will be much difficult for him when Wilshere and Welbeck make the return from injury.
It is a tough position to be in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, no doubt, but he has to keep his heart. Ozil, Alexis, Ramsey and Cazorla will not be around for 60 games in a season. At least one of them is bound to lose form, even though it is not to say they are in the best of forms at the moment. There will be number of occasions where it will be relatively easier for Coquelin to be taken off. And there will be situations where Alexis can be played down the middle. That would free up a slot.
The main fight for Oxlade-Chamberlain is not to get into the first team. At 21, he has a lot of time on his side. His main aim would be to become the first substitute. Minus any potential signings, the front six at Arsenal picks itself. Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott present the major competition to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get into this team, and if he can consolidate his position as the first choice from the bench, he will surely be a prime player next season. He is one who has proved to keep his head in difficult circumstances and if he can keep doing that, he can be the future of Arsenal Football Club.
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