As opposed to last year, there are far more "what if" moments with Arsenal's exit to Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League. What if Mesut Özil had stuck away his penalty? What if Wojciech Szczesny wasn't sent off? What if a combination of brainfarts from Jack Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny hadn't led to Bayern's second goal at the Emirates? One thing that isn't a what if moment, though, is the performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain over the two legs. He was Arsenal's stand out player in both matches, terrorising Bayern's back line with his blend of pace, skill and directness, winning numerous free kicks and continually beating them. On Tuesday night, Oxlade-Chamberlain won an astounding 10/10 of his dribbles, and from a relatively unfamiliar central midfield position, was Arsenal's standout player.
This is only the latest impressive performance from Oxlade-Chamberlain in what has been a month of excellent form. Since returning from injury, he has generally been very good, having an Aaron Ramsey-esque type of contribution to Arsenal's goals. And now, without Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott and with Aaron Ramsey yet to return from injury, Oxlade-Chamberlain has become even more important if Arsenal are to hope to stay in the hunt for the Premier League title.
There is, however, some comfort to be drawn from the fact that Arsenal's team will resemble the side that ran off 8 wins and 2 draws in the final 10 games of last season. There are, however, two differences: Theo Walcott will not be in the side, and Aaron Ramsey has not yet returned. Oxlade-Chamberlain has the pressure of replacing the output of both. In this case, that means continuing to make runs behind defences, which he has been very good at in the last month, getting behind to assist Lukas Podolski, score against Crystal Palace, and win penalties against Liverpool and Everton.
There will be some differences, though: often, Oxlade-Chamberlain got behind from passes and flicks from Özil, which, of course, Rosicky is not as good at providing. This is where Oxlade-Chamberlain's direct running will help: if he can beat defenders, he can create space or win fouls and penalties, which he has been very good at. He's also built up a decent partnership with both Olivier Giroud and Yaya Sanogo, showing an innate ability to pick them out with cutbacks, and also play one-twos.
Throughout the last month, Oxlade-Chamberlain has been impressively consistent. That he is displaying this level of talent is no surprise to regular Arsenal watchers: Oxlade-Chamberlain has been showing promise since his first league start for Arsenal, where he was excellent against Manchester United in January 2012. He had an excellent pre-season, and was Arsenal's best player during the first 45 minutes against Aston Villa before picking up an unfortunate injury. Since returning from injury, though, he has shown why he can be the difference maker for Arsenal: he has an exceptional blend of pace, directness and skill, and has also shown the ability to both make right decisions and be a combination of a playmaker, winger and goal-scorer. That he has done so from a central position and both wide decisions only makes him more exciting: he can be put in three different places and still be decisive.
In all of Arsene Wenger's trophy-winning sides, a young player has made the difference in the final months. In 2004, it was Jose Antonio Reyes, in 2002 it was Freddie Ljungberg, and in 1998 it was Nicolas Anelka. If Oxlade-Chamberlain continues his fine run of form, he can add his name to the list, and fire Arsenal to their first trophy in 9 years.