Has Arsenal’s formation dilemma been solved by emergence of the Ox?
Teen sensation adds goals and glamour to Arsene Wenger’s 4-3-3
Ever since Arsene Wenger switched to playing 4-3-3 at the start of 2009-10 season, he has been searching for the perfect line-up. In the 7-1 thrashing of Blackburn he might just have found it.
The sight of two pacy, skilful wingers rampaging down the flanks and creating chances galore for one central striker and arriving midfielders to devour was the very essence of the system Wenger had devised.
While Theo Walcott has long been asked – and more often than not failed – to deliver the bullets from the right flank, his partner in crime last Saturday, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, was relatively new to the left-sided role.
Between them both players wreaked havoc on an outclassed Blackburn, but afterwards all the focus was on the younger of the two men, and whether Oxlade-Chamberlain should join Walcott in England’s next Euro 2012 squad.
“I don’t want to compare [the two players]”, said Wenger. “The only thing I would say is that Chamberlain already had a complete season in League One and he survived quite well.
He was a few times injured on his ankle. He’s 18 years old, Theo came here at 16 and a half or 17, so he is a bit older as well.
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“It’s about trying to find the right balance between having confidence and not being too early and too much under pressure.
“Walcott went to the World Cup without having played in the Premier League at all, so it was a bit early because he was 17 years old.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain is already being tipped to be included in Fabio Capello’s England squad for the friendly with Holland on February 29.
Given that he has only made three Premier League starts for the Gunners, it is still early days, but certainly his performance on Saturday suggested he is ready for the international stage.
“In a very short period of time he has become an important player who can make a difference,” said Wenger. “He has made a big step in the last few months. He is more mature now.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s emergence has further enhanced the likelihood of Andrey Arshavin departing the Emirates in the summer, with the Russian remaining on the bench last Saturday.
Arshavin’s arrival was one of the triggers for Wenger to toy with the 4-3-3 formation, as he saw him as ideally suited to the flank roles.
Arshavin himself has long coveted playing in the hole behind the striker, but is looking increasingly unlikely to be granted that opportunity.
He could yet be sold this month with the Russian transfer window open until February 24, but the likelihood is that Wenger will take stock in the summer and make a decision then.
With neither Robin van Persie or Walcott having committed themselves to new deals yet, another turbulent summer is in prospect at the Emirates, whatever happens on the pitch over the next three months.
But the emergence of Oxlade-Chamberlain is a plus point from the season that cannot be eroded. Much like with Jack Wilshere last season, in adversity Arsenal have unearthed a star not just for this season or the next, but for the long term.