Arsenal have become the Lernaean Hydra. The monster, an ancient water serpent possessing reptilian traits, had the ability to grow two heads in replacement of any one that was cut off. Arsenal, though not as old --but sometimes, as ferocious-- have managed to master the regeneration ability. It was not long ago that a young Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hijacking the microphone from a reporter to interview Aaron Ramsey --with Theo Walcott watching-- following Arsenal's preseason win against Nagoya Grampus, but in terms of his football development, it seems ages ago.
Where Aaron Ramsey had begun to shine after the loss of Francesc Fabregas, despite the scrutiny of the world, and Theo Walcott was coming into his own after the departure of Robin Van Persie, Ox was seen as a developing project for the future. Desirous of a center midfield role, the boxer-built winger was being primed for the later years, but as we all know, every great man does things before he's ready. It's the will and ability to face the changing conditions that defines the individual, not the level of comfort.
Through the ashes of Ramsey's perpetual setbacks from a thigh injury, the Ox has become not only the spark for Arsenal but looks to be one of the best English players already. At the age of 20 years old, thrust into the midfield by necessity rather than development, he has surpassed expectations and has become a leader in an Arsenal team challenging on two title fronts.
Alex has the quality of fearlessness that a lot of his peers lack. The belief of self and ability that allows long runs with the ball at his feet through scrambling defenders, the intelligence of movement and the short memory that is needed when one is having a bad shooting day. In the center of the park, his dribbling ability and driving pace is a beacon of salvation in an Arsenal team that desperately misses Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere.
His impressive style of play, as he tells it from earlier this season: "I try to get on the ball and make something happen. That's usually dribbling with the ball, running at defenders, taking players on and trying to open teams up. I have done that in the past and I will continue to do that, whether I'm playing down the wing or more centrally. I don't know yet where I will play but I will always have that aspect to my game, wherever I play."
After his powerful performance in the 1-1 draw against the best team in the world, Bayern Munich, I was reminded of a young Jack Wilshere before he was lost in the injury void. Against Barcelona --who were the best team in the world at that time-- Wilshere announced himself to the world. The midfielder managed to evade, dribble and out-pass the Xavi and Iniesta tandem that had plagued opponents for months --using his physicality when fleet of foot was not enough. It was a magical performance that signaled that he was ready for a more permanent role, with Arsenal and with England.
Ox has not only replicated that, but he seems to be a much stronger presence than Jack. He also seems to have developed the intensity and drive of Ramsey at a much earlier age, with the football intelligence that Theo Walcott was criticized for in spite of his years. He also possesses an outside shot and the will to actually shoot that escapes everyone on the Arsenal team save for Cazorla.
A genuine combination of the best attributes of his Arsenal teammates with the reckless self-belief that comes with youth, the Ox could in a short amount of time become the best Arsenal and England player. The disappointing issue here of course is that developments like his seem to come off the back of a brutal injury to a teammate --the cutting of one hydra head --thus all of the best players are never fully fit at the same time. But this also plays a huge part in why he has developed quickly: being thrust into a role of importance has essentially forced him to realize his potential ahead of time. As unfortunate as the circumstances are, every act of creation is of course an act of destruction first.