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By James Cunliffe
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will mature into a central midfielder and could be the English successor to Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard.
In the same week that team-mate Theo Walcott was ruled out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, the Gunners winger made his long-awaited return.
Oxlade-Chamberlain turned out for the under-21s against Fulham in his first outing since injuring his knee in the defeat to Aston Villa in the opening Premier League game of the season.
The 20-year-old would seem to be the perfect replacement for Walcott for both club and country, especially with this summer’s World Cup in Brazil on the horizon, but Arsenal manager Wenger believes the two Southampton academy graduates are very different players.
“He has a good opportunity now,” the Frenchman said of Oxlade-Chamberlain, adding: “I think he will be in Roy Hodgson’s plans as he can play central and wide. On that front England do not have too many players.
“He had a big impact when he came on in that [friendly] game against Brazil [in June 2013], especially in central midfield, and deep in central midfield his future will be there.
“He has a good long ball, penetration from deep and a good quality to distribute and penetrate individually. Certainly he has the same qualities to Steven Gerrard.”
However, Wenger insisted that the midfielder’s transformation should be allowed to happend naturally.
“At the moment he is still in formation,” the Arsenal manager said.
“It is good for his education as he plays left, right and central when needed. After 23 or 24 you settle in a definite position.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain could be included in tomorrow’s squad to face Aston Villa for the first meeting since the Gunners were handed a home defeat in the season opener.
That reverse sparked a furious backlash from fans, questioning Wenger’s leadership at a time when he’d failed to sign any players in the summer transfer window.
Soon after, however, he broke the club’s transfer record by spending £42.5million on German playmaker Mesut Ozil, while also re-signing former midfielder Mathieu Flamini on a free.
The positive impact has seen reverberations throughout this season as the Gunners have led the Premier League for much of the campaign and, though they were knocked off the top spot yesterday when Chelsea beat Hull 2-0 to leapfrog them, a win at Villa Park will return the north Londoners to the summit once more.
“We lost the first game of the season and you kill straight away any hope for people, so of course I can understand it,” said Wenger.
“It was not only linked with the result, but it was linked with the fact we had not bought any players and people knew we had some money.”
Wenger had spent the summer trying to sign a striker, seeing interest in Luis Suarez, Gonzalo Higuain, Wayne Rooney and Demba Ba come to nothing.
With the January transfer window now in full swing, the need for a striker is still there, especially after the injury to Walcott.
Olivier Giroud has also been out recently, but could play against Villa, while Lukas Podolski is only just returning from an injury which kept him out since August.
And while he’s interested in finding “something special” Wenger admits the mid-season market is not the best time to do business.
“A club like ours to find players who strengthen our team in January, it is nearly impossible, honestly,” said Wenger, who has been linked with a loan move for Real Madrid starlet Alvaro Morata as well as £32million-rated Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa.
“It is not even about the money. It is just about the potential.”