COMMENT By Matt Farr
Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been through a tough time of late.
The 23-year-old has had a career plagued with injuries, which have threatened to derail his once sky-high potential.
Dutch legend Marco van Basten once described the England international as “a gem”, paying tribute to his performances during his early days as an Arsenal first-teamer.
Joining the Southampton academy at the age of seven, Oxlade-Chamberlain firmly established himself as a prodigy – and many of England’s clubs were eager to get their hands on England’s next best thing.
The Gunners eventually won the race for his signature, signing him for a fee in the region of £15 million in August 2011.
He continued to show signs of improvement right the way through his first couple of seasons at the Emirates. However, things began to turn sour just as he was hitting his prime, and it’s not quite been the same for him since.
Criticism after criticism has been thrown in his direction, with the player failing to hit first gear on a consistent basis. Last summer, there was even talk of him being sold by the club.
Back in August, the jury was still out on Oxlade-Chamberlain. The stop-start career certainly has not helped his progress, but at 23, there had to come a time when he was either going to cut it or move on.
However, free from injury so far this campaign, the midfielder has been re-instated into the first-team line-up, and he is finally showing everyone what he is really capable of.
From 21 appearances in all competitions this season, Oxlade-Chamberlain has contributed six goals and six assists, arguably his best return to date in an Arsenal shirt.
He’s been working ever so hard on improving his game, and has had to stave off tough competition from youngster Alex Iwobi, but he has now become one of Arsene Wenger’s key players.
All the focus at Arsenal has been on Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. But the performances and contributions of Oxlade-Chamberlain cannot be overlooked. He has his self-belief back, and is flying so high he can help catapult the team to the Premier League title.
He has just 18 months left on his current deal, but negotiations over an extension are yet to begin. He has become a favourite once more with the fans, however, and they will not want to see him leave in this form.
It took him time, but he is finally living up to the hype and beginning to flourish as one of England’s brightest young talents.
An England recall surely beckons, and a first Premier League title could also be on the horizon; but beyond that, who knows what Oxlade-Chamberlain can achieve.
In other Arsenal news, this injured 26-year-old faces a major battle to get back into the Arsenal first-team.