2014 was a bad year for quick, English wingers at Arsenal. In January, Theo Walcott ruptured his ACL. At the end of that month, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returned from his own knee injury, but would struggle to completely regain form and fitness, before getting injured again in a pre-World Cup friendly, meaning he would miss England's disappointing World Cup campaign. Oxlade-Chamberlain seemed in a malaise after that, with early performances lacking conviction that he was a viable first-team starter. Even his equalising goal against Tottenham did little to mask that he was performing averagely, with his game lacking end product and variation: it seemed that Oxlade-Chamberlain had one move, to burst down the right before cross to the far post.
However, something has changed in the past few weeks, with Oxlade-Chamberlain Arsenal's most consistent threat, second only to the superheroic efforts of Alexis Sánchez. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but since Theo Walcott has returned to the fold, Oxlade-Chamberlain has started playing much better. That does come with a caveat: this run of good form has seen Oxlade-Chamberlain score once and not assist a single goal, but Oxlade-Chamberlain is shooting more, passing more, dribbling more and creating more than he had been.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made his 100th appearance for Arsenal on Wednesday, and Arsene Wenger had this to say:
"I like the way he is taking responsibility," Wenger said. "He is knowledgeable about the team organisation and he is keen to do his job without losing his individual contribution. He doesn't lose his quality with it.
"I'm very pleased with the way he is developing as a player. I have said it many times to my staff recently. He is becoming mature, responsible and still has initiative in the game.
We can see it in Oxlade-Chamberlain's recent performances. Against Manchester United he created 5 chances, all from open play, and consistently took on, and beat, Manchester United's defenders. While it doesn't always lead to a goal, it tends to consistently open space, which he exploits with a good passing range. Oxlade-Chamberlain has always been fast, and always been energetic, but now there is a purpose to his running, and in that sense, he has taken after Alexis Sánchez, with many calling Oxlade-Chamberlain "Sánchez lite".
The next step for Oxlade-Chamberlain is to take advantage of Walcott's absence, and add end product to his game. In his 100 matches for Arsenal, Oxlade-Chamberlain has only scored 11 times, all at the Emirates. He's already matched his tally from last season, though, and generally his end product is improving as Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to add variation to his game. There's more unpredictability about him now, with his ability to drive through the middle and use both feet. And while perhaps no single attribute aside from his pace and dribbling is outstanding, there isn't anything that's an obvious weakness. In that sense, Oxlade-Chamberlain is becoming highly dependable, a sort of James Milner type with added flair, and in a team where consistency is becoming more and more important, having a consistent player who looks after the ball well, as Oxlade-Chamberlain does, is a major plus. It is that consistency that had been missing since Oxlade-Chamberlain broke onto the scene, but Wenger's assertion that he is becoming mature and responsible speaks to how Oxlade-Chamberlain is adding a level of consistency to his game.