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Gunners youngster’s performance against France leaves Walcott in the shade

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Arsene Wenger fought a long, hard battle to seal the signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain last summer. It is starting to look like a very wise investment.

The Frenchman introduced his latest teenage prodigy gradually and carefully last season, but that approach has not been mirrored by Roy Hodgson, who pitched the 18-year-old straight into the cauldron of the Euro 2012 opener with France on his first competitive start for his country on Monday night.

But Wenger’s work, not for the first time, has benefited the national side. As with the likes of Ashley Cole and Jack Wilshere before him, Oxlade-Chamberlain instantly looked like he belonged on the international stage.

Whirlwind

It was the culmination of nine months of hard work from both Wenger and the player himself, who admitted in the aftermath of Monday’s game just what a whirlwind year it has been for him to swap playing in League One for Southampton to starting for England in a major tournament.

“Everything has come as a bit of a surprise to me at the moment,” said Oxlade-Chamberlain. “It has been a mad year and everything has been going quickly.

“To be selected for this squad was a massive step for me and to be called into the team for the first game was a massive honour.

“I approached the game in the best way I could and worked hard for the team. I think it went okay. I showed what I can do in bits. It was quite frustrating for myself to try and get into the positions I like to get into and get at defenders. But it’s not about me. It’s about me and the country. I tried to do a good defensive job for the team and make sure we got the right result.”

A draw was not the perfect result for England, but it was a solid start to take into Friday night’s game against Sweden in Kiev.

The big question for Arsenal fans at least, will be whether Oxlade-Chamberlain had done enough in Donetsk to keep his place for the second group game.

His early threat as an attacking force, especially the moment he jinked between France’s supposed midfield shield of Alou Diarra and Yohan Cabaye, faded as the game progressed, but the same could be said of England as a whole.

And it was his defensive discipline, tucking back in front of Cole as France pressed in the second half, that justified Hodgson’s faith in starting the youngest player in his squad.

The only blemish was the yellow card for the over-zealous tackle on Samir Nasri soon after England had taken the lead, although Arsenal fans would possibly be of the opinion that was a tackle worth making on the outspoken former Gunner.

While Oxlade-Chamberlain’s inclusion put a smile on the face of most Arsenal fans, it may not quite have done the same for Theo Walcott.

Walcott, five years older and an Arsenal player for five years longer than Oxlade-Chamberlain, came off the bench for the closing moments in Donetsk, and might have wondered quite how his younger team-mate has stolen such a march on him.

The answer would appear to lie in the teenager’s temperament. Even after 25 caps and almost 100 Premier League starts for the Gunners, Walcott is not a player who can always be relied upon to fulfil his manager’s wishes. And Hodgson is starting to look like a man who values that kind of discipline above all else.

That may change in Kiev tomorrow night, however, when the new national manager is expected to ask his side to be a little more attacking in pursuit of a victory which could send the Swedes home and edge England closer to the knockout stages.

Walcott replacing James Milner on the right flank would switch that emphasis from defence to attack, and he could also be deployed in the withdrawn attacking role occupied by Ashley Young against France.

However at the moment Walcott is not the story, not the focus of attention as he was so acutely at the 2006 World Cup when, of course, he never actually dirtied his boots for Sven Goran Eriksson’s side.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has already seen more action than Walcott did in a month largely spent sightseeing in Germany six years ago. Arsenal fans will hope both players can have an impact over the next two games, and beyond.

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