To say that this season hasn't gone according to plan for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would likely qualify you for the understatement of the young 2016 year. So far this season, Oxlade-Chamberlain has put up exactly one goal and zero assists in 947 minutes of game action and that goal came in the Community Shield win versus Chelsea months ago. Of course, goals and assists aren't everything as long as your play is helping improve the team but one would be hard-pressed to think of a time where the Ox's inclusion has led to a net positive for his teammates.
To be fair, those numbers do need some context, as the Ox isn't a regular starter and injuries have played a part in the last season or so. However, even if we were to ignore that it just rarely seems as if he's going to provide a tangible contribution in the final third. His hustle and bustle is there, the effort usually can't be questioned, but his decision making is simply rudimentary for someone of his experience and the wealth of options on the pitch around him. Whether he's out wide and tasked with being on the receiving end of balls in the final third, or whether he's burdened to be a creative outlet with the ball at his feet, Ox simple cannot seem to make the smart team decision outside of a short, basic pass.
That's not to say he can't improve and that we don't rate him, of course. He's 22 years old and he's obviously got a tremendous physical profile. His pace, power and stamina is as good as it gets for his age and we've seen his cannon of a shot in action. He's perfectly fine in that sense. However, the technical side of his game needs to be refined and he needs to learn how to corral that energy into something productive and measured. We saw these limitations versus Sunderland where he made a couple of baffling decisions on consecutive plays in over-hitting a simple pass on the break and firing miles wide of goal from outside the box the next time Arsenal had possession. We saw it this weekend when, given the chance to be the central creative outlet in Mesut Ozil's place, he failed to make any kind of substantial positive impact. Wenger praised him and even said that he "had some very interesting moments in the game" but it's hard to pick out any one specific moment to highlight. Perhaps he's too eager to impress, but some criticisms have come up multiple times this campaign and they're getting harder to ignore.
We may have reached the point where remaining at Arsenal for the remainder of this season isn't what's best for player or club. He needs playing time, which is something he might not receive with Arsenal in the middle of a title race and Arsene Wenger needing everyone to contribute every single time out. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may need a loan.
So if we're playing make-believe, where would be a good fit?
Ideally, a side with similar philosophical tendencies as Arsenal would be a start, but not a necessity. One would also want him to play for a side competing for something, whether it's a trophy or an above-average side looking to finish as high up the table as possible. Within the Premier League, Southampton and Watford would appear to be two logical choices. Southampton is where the Ox came up and it's a side under the tutelage of a good manager looking to attack with a number of solid options in the final third. Meanwhile, Watford is also led by an excellent young manager but is a side looking to sneak into Europe and could use any help it could get on the wing.
Outside of the league, Villarreal could use another wide attacker and they play an attractively aggressive, attacking style of football as they try and secure a top-4 spot while Wolfsburg needs more in the final third and could use another helping hand in trying to secure a top-3 spot in a competitive Bundesliga (Bayern aside). Perhaps this is me playing Football Manager to an extent, but there are good options out there where he could still be involved on a side looking to accomplish something significant.
At any rate, the most important thing to look for is the opportunity to receive as many minutes as possible in order to experiment and learn. One doesn't have to look far to see the benefits of a loan or even just an increased level of involvement as Joel Campbell has proven to be almost everything the vast majority of us expected (or hoped for) from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain this season. Hard-working, creative and involved are all ways to describe the former's campaign and perhaps a page out of his book would serve the latter best. While any player would want to be a contributor to a title chaser in the second half of the season, the pressure to do so, coupled with a host of poor performances, might not be the most conducive environment to personal development. Perhaps a competitive, but less pressure-filled, setting may be just what Ox needs to reach the levels many of us predicted for him months ago and can serve as the springboard for big things next season.