EDITOR’S NOTE: Please welcome Gus Prum to The Short Fuse! Gus is an Arsenal supporter in New York and we’re glad to have him aboard.
It’s a story Arsenal fans have seen far too many times. A young star begins to realize their potential under Arsene Wenger’s tutelage, and then seeks greener pastures for trophies or more money. Losing Oxlade-Chamberlain would be yet another blow in a long series of player departures that have crippled Arsenal’s progress throughout the years.
Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie, and Alex Song (lol) all left North London at the height of their abilities (perhaps Henry was slightly past it, but the fact remains). What’s particularly troubling about that procession of talent out of the Emirates is that all of these players were more or less rewarded, and not just in a financial sense, for their departures.
Henry won two La Liga titles and a Champions League trophy in Catalonia. Cesc won a La Liga title with Barcelona, and is on his way to winning two Premier League trophies in three years with one of Arsenal’s biggest rivals. Samir Nasri won two Premier League titles with Manchester City. Song won a title with Barcelona. Robin Van Persie, well perhaps it’s best just not to talk about Robin Van Persie.
You get the point. These players all had different reasons for leaving, but they were more or less justified in the end.
But that was supposed to be a thing of the past. Arsenal fans have been told that the years of economic frugality and inability to compete with the upper echelons of European football are over. Arsenal bought world-class players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, and the club shed the supposed deadweight without losing the most elite members of our squad.
The summer of 2013 was a watershed moment for Arsenal. That transfer window saw Arsene Wenger finally flex some financial muscle and throw around some pretty impressive sums of cash for players that were in their primes.
Earlier that summer, Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis claimed Arsenal could compete with Bayern Munich, both on the field and in the boardroom, which, three and a half years later is just laughable. There was the infamous £40 million + 1 bid for Luis Suarez, a cheeky bit of business that was never going to work and even called into question what Wenger and the board may or may not have been smoking.
But then, just when the night seemed darkest, on deadline day of the 2013 summer transfer window Arsenal bought Mesut Ozil, Real Madrid’s number 10. This was the moment that Arsenal’s fortunes were supposedly reversed, one of the best players in the world was leaving one of the biggest clubs in the world for Arsenal.
But alas, here we are again. Last summer Ivan Gazidis went back into full Napoleon mode by claiming we actually couldn’t compete with the financial might of our rivals (go figure!) and that Arsenal run in a “self-sustaining way.” And while Gazidis has a point, that Arsenal have to be responsible in the transfer market, contrasted with his comments exactly three years prior, it shed a damming light on Wenger and the board.
This is why the prospect of losing the Ox to another Premier League side (Manchester United, Liverpool, and Manchester City have all been linked) would be so disastrous to Arsenal from an optics perspective. Ox isn’t Ozil or Sanchez, who are both world class players in their late 20’s seeking prospective moves abroad, Oxlade-Chamberlain is 23, and has just begun to enter the most important phase of his development.
Oxlade-Chamberlain, often a source of Arsenal fans’ frustration, perhaps even symbolizing the club’s unrealized potential, has looked a completely changed man since moving to the center of the pitch. Against Bayern Munich, Ox was the lone bright spot in a never-ending pit of darkness.
Ox’s mixture of power, speed, and slick technicality suggested the former Southampton man would be an ideal winger, but he always looked a square peg trying to be thrust into a round hole.
Against Southampton in the FA Cup in January, Arsene Wenger went with a three man midfield of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Besides exciting hyphen fetishists everywhere, it was a break from Wenger’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation that has become so stale in recent months. Ox displayed all the qualities of a typical box-to-box midfielder, a number 8, if you will, albeit against a rather weak Southampton side.
This compilation, per Arsenalist, shows Ox calm and composed on the ball, keeping his play simple and slick, a massive passing range and an ability to burst past defenders when necessary. On the wing Oxlade-Chamberlain has always had to rely on his athleticism, which he has in abundance, but he has never been able to use his best qualities isolated out on the right wing.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s development in the middle of the park has been one of the most promising revelations in a season of, well, very few of them. For the Portsmouth native to continue that development under Klopp, Guardiola, or (ugh) Mourinho would be a damming indictment of where Arsenal are as a football club and their ability to attract and retain top talent.
It’s entirely possible this is just agent talk to get Oxlade-Chamberlain a new contract. By all reports Ox loves Arsenal and living in London, he was in attendance at the U-23 match against Manchester City the other night, suggesting his deep-rooted feelings for the club. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s tenure in North London hasn’t always been the stuff of fairytales, but he seems to have turned a corner at a crucial and promising period of his development. Here’s to hoping that happens at The Emirates.