It has been a mixed start to the season for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in what is already regarded as a defining year for his career.
The midfielder came off the bench to promptly score and put the Gunners back in the game in their opening weekend defeat to Liverpool, and started the next two matches against Leicester and Watford before the international break.
Everything seemed to be progressing well, but then Sam Allardyce failed to call.
“It provided a kick up the backside,” said Oxlade-Chamberlain this week. “I have been playing for England since I was 18 and, while I wouldn’t say I took it all for granted, it just seemed to be a part of my season – to play for Arsenal and to play for England.
“It was a wake-up call. I am not young now, I am 23, so you need to be performing and playing as much as you can to deserve a chance to go and play for England. Being back in the set-up now makes me realise how special it is and it is something I want to keep happening in the foreseeable future.”
Like Theo Walcott before him, Oxlade-Chamberlain talks a good game.
His quotes on being ignored by Allardyce for the manager’s first (and only) England squad hint at a self-awareness and maturity that should aid his ambition to become a regular for Arsenal and the national team.
The reality, however, can often be different.
Such has been Oxlade-Chamberlain’s stalled progress at Arsenal that there was talk at the start of last season that Arsene Wenger was willing to let him leave – with Chelsea reportedly expressing an interest.
While he ended up staying to fight for his place, the 23-year-old made only nine starts in the Premier League as a knee injury in February cut short his season.
It was a testing campaign in which questions about his long-term future failed to be answered.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s starting role early in the current campaign has also quickly given way to a place on the bench.
He was substituted after 78 minutes against Leicester, 70 minutes in the next game away to Watford and 62 minutes at home to Southampton as Wenger gradually looked to other options within the squad.
In Arsenal’s most impressive performance so far, the 3-0 win over Chelsea, Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t play a single minute.
In many ways his problems are similar to those Walcott has faced during his decade with Arsenal after he too left Southampton to move to the Emirates Stadium.
Both players have struggled with injuries and uncertainty over their positions, while poor decision-making on the pitch has left them, on occasion, feeling the brunt of the fans’ frustrations.
It is clear, then, that Oxlade-Chamberlain’s “kick up the backside” shouldn’t only apply to his England involvement.
His Arsenal future is on the line once more and, approaching his mid-twenties, he will no longer benefit from the patience afforded to a youngster breaking into the first team. Not when he is being upstaged by the 20-year-old Alex Iwobi.
Perhaps the greatest encouragement he can take is Walcott’s sudden upturn in form. Now 27, it seems the penny has finally dropped for Walcott, who has spoken openly about a change in attitude after losing his place last season.
The winger has been in blistering form as a result, scoring four times in his last four matches to help lift Arsenal to third place in the table.
Four years Walcott’s junior, Oxlade-Chamberlain should grab the opportunity to learn his teammate’s valuable lesson at a much earlier juncture in his career.
It is one thing to talk about a “wake-up call”, it’s quite another to do something about it.
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