While the Alexis Sánchez transfer saga has captured most Arsenal fans attention this summer, another contract stand-off has become a major dilemma as Arsenal approach the end of the window. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who reportedly had come to an agreement with Arsenal at the beginning of the summer, has now, after being touted across the league, apparently told Arsène Wenger that he will not sign a new contract—and that it is not about money.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has been linked with a £35m move to Chelsea, and if that offer comes to fruition, Arsenal should sell, despite Wenger’s public statements about wanting to keep him. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s desire to move is apparently position related (again, not money related), which is odd, as Chelsea would sign him to play wing-back.
In a summer where Arsenal are committed to keeping Alexis to the end of his contract, forgoing at least £50m in a transfer fee, if not more, Arsenal cannot do the same with Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alexis is a star; it is arguable that a season of Alexis is worth £50m to Arsenal. Oxlade-Chamberlain is a squad player, and someone you cannot justify refusing £35m for.
Furthermore, Oxlade-Chamberlain wants to play in midfield. Despite professing that he sees Oxlade-Chamberlain’s future in central midfield, Wenger has been reluctant to play him there, often only doing so when there is no other option. During pre-season, Wenger played Joe Willock in central midfield while Oxlade-Chamberlain played at wing-back.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has made the wing-back position his own, and it certainly suits his style more than an attacking position. But to that end, playing Oxlade-Chamberlain at wing-back has resulted in Wenger playing players out of position: Héctor Bellerin has gone to left wing-back because he’s better than Oxlade-Chamberlain there, Sead Kolasinac is playing at left centre-back, which he can play but probably not in conjunction with Nacho Monreal as the central defensive player. Arsenal would be a better balanced side with either Bellerin or Oxlade-Chamberlain at right wing back, and Kolasinac or Monreal at left wing back, and to that end, Wenger should probably play the superior player, Bellerin, who became the preferred starter at right wing back at the end of last season.
Finally, would selling Oxlade-Chamberlain be all that bad? For years he has been selling dreams of promise without actually delivering on that promise. With Oxlade-Chamberlain, you get moments of excitement and brilliance—a driving run, for example—before he does something daft, like give away a 5-yard pass, or run the ball out of play. He is at an age where if he doesn’t smooth out the rough edges of his play, he likely never will. Given that those rough edges are largely carelessness in possession and decision making—both reasons why he rarely plays central midfield—it is unlikely that he will make progress on those issues at Arsenal, with Wenger. A better coach, like Antonio Conte, may be able to mask those issues, and make it harder for Oxlade-Chamberlain to make mental mistakes, but ultimately, this is close to what he is going to be as a footballer: a jack of all trades, a master of none. At £35m, Arsenal can’t really afford to say no.