At times it has felt a little like an absurdist play waiting for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s breakout season. Blessed with raw talent and power, the English winger has always looked on the cusp of becoming a very special player. Joining Arsenal from Southampton at the tender age of seventeen, he always looked to be a winger for the future.
Yet, after five seasons and change, Oxlade-Chamberlain remains on the fringe of the first team, managing 52 league starts to 54 substitutions. Through struggles in form, injury and being out of favour, his leap forward has not come. Neither have the goals, tallying only 16 in all competitions. While still young, the Ox is starting to feel like an amazing organizing cabinet from IKEA that, once you got it home, lacked the instructions to assemble it.
In an interview to Goals on Sunday, Oxlade-Chamberlain admitted to his own frustrations over lack of playing time:
“As a footballer you want to play every game, and I'm not happy when I'm not playing, as is everyone on the bench.
"There is going to come a time in my career, and I think I'm approaching it, when I do need to get more regular football but my focus is completely and utterly on playing for Arsenal and breaking into the team when I get the opportunity.
"I love being at Arsenal. It's a great club, a great team and I have a lot of faith in the team. I just want to keep focusing on that but there is that in my mind where I want to get more game time.
"There comes a time in your career sometimes when you have to re-evaluate and think, 'Is that going to be here or elsewhere?'
"I'm not there at the moment, I'm fully focused on this season and playing my part. When you get to the end of the season, just like when managers re-evaluate their team, players re-evaluate their personal situations as well.
"I will do that at the end of the season and see what is happening."
In the long run, all of this is a positive. As a player, Oxlade-Chamberlain should not only want playing time but be frustrated he isn’t getting it. Competition is the nature of being at a big club and Alex said he is no longer satisfied just working for it, admitting he had talked to Wenger about lack of time and is “at a stage now where I definitely want to be playing and pushing him to play me, getting feedback, and if I'm not playing, to find out why.”
At the moment, though, he finds himself behind the likes of the resurgent Theo Walcott and emerging Alex Iwobi on the wings, with Alexis Sanchez and (perhaps) Lucas Perez also options. One can’t help but see how he could be questioning his future with the club. Conversely, one could point to the loan of Jack Wilshere to suggest that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side either.
The break will come again this season, for injuries and drops in form will happen. For now, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s biggest goal should be mastering the art of the super-substitution. At the tail end of the game against Swansea, he did that, providing two blistering counterattacks that could have easily added to Arsenal’s lead. Enough of those and the playing time should come.