After six years, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to say his goodbyes to Arsenal in the next few days as the 2017 summer transfer window draws to a close, but who is this move good for, if anyone?
It is remarkable to think that, given he had two years of professional football at then-League One Southampton behind him before signing for the Gunners, that Oxlade-Chamberlain is still only 24 years of age.
Although he will understandably be a bit miffed that Arsene Wenger’s side will be in Europe’s second-tier competition for the first time in 20 years and therefore wants to be back in the Champions League, but at what potential cost for a player, it is fair to say, still in development?
It would appear that Oxlade-Chamberlain now has two options at his disposal after Manchester City’s interest looks to have faded into oblivion, leaving Arsenal’s London rivals Chelsea, and Liverpool.
What is in doubt though, whichever club he chooses, is who is supposed to benefit from ‘The Ox’ signing on the dotted line.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte changed the face of English football last season when his 3-4-3 system blew away everyone before it and, as the saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, with seemingly every manager in the Premier League now adopting the formation.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s current manager, Wenger is no exception, and he has used the original winger as his right wing-back to little success, which most recently culminated in a 4-0 humiliation at Liverpool and the latest calls for the Frenchman’s head.
Regardless, that has not deterred Conte who presumably sees Oxlade-Chamberlain as competition for Victor Moses, but with Moses adapting so surprisingly well to the role compared to his potential rival, will the new man get the football he requires?
It will be even less likely if instead he is considered in the wing-forward/number ten role where Willian, Pedro and Eden Hazard provide a stern enough battle as it is.
Alternatively, Anfield is Oxlade-Chamberlain’s destination. It will mean he will be back in his favoured winger role, but again the amount of options at Liverpool’s disposal will end up in Oxlade-Chamberlain on the fringes, with Moh Salah and Sadio Mane two of the first names on the Reds’ team sheet and Adam Lallana in first reserve.
Granted, none of this may matter to Oxlade-Chamberlain if he gets the Champions League football he so desperately craves in a rotational fashion, however he also has to consider that this is a World Cup year and, even though the Three Lions do not have a wealth of options available, they are still unlikely to take a squad player to Russia next summer.
Maybe he would be better off staying at Arsenal, ironically maybe the only ‘winners’ here, given they will get a reasonable fee for a man out of contract at the end of the season, but that contract stand-off looks to have burned all of his bridges at the Emirates.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has spent his summer trying to get out of a club in crisis, but in doing so he has created one of his own.
The 2015-16 Premier League season is slowly dawning upon us and, soon enough, so will the dreaded “sack race”. Here are five managers that will need a good start this season to prevent themselves being dragged into the mire.
1) Steve McClaren – Newcastle United
Newcastle’s murky issues off-the-pitch seem to finally look like they are coming to an end. Alan Pardew resigning as manager to take over at Crystal Palace in December 2014 was the beginning of the end of the “Cockney Mafia” and now owner Mike Ashley is set to step down to much fanfare from the Newcastle faithful.
New manager McClaren hopefully signifies a new dawn at St.James’ Park, however he arrives in Tyneside having twice failed to gain promotion from the Championship with Derby County following a brief stint as a coach at QPR, a failed return to FC Twente where he previously won the Eredivisie, a four month spell at Nottingham Forest and a dismal period at Wolfsburg where he was sacked after less than a year.
McClaren has defiantly announced his intentions to be the first man to bring a major honour to Newcastle since Stan Steymour who won the FA Cup in 1955 while in charge, which could suggest the Magpies’ league position could be sacrificed in order to pick up some shiny silverware.
A home match against Southampton offers McClaren a decent prospect of a promising start as Newcastle boss where he will be backed by a 50,000-plus capacity crowd, but defeat will only remind his new fans that he was once a man leading arch-rivals Middlesbrough to a 2004 League Cup win and a 2006 UEFA Cup final.
Man About Toon: McClaren is the new Newcastle boss.
2) Brendan Rodgers – Liverpool
What a year for Rodgers – and not in a good way. He finished May 2014 by signing a four-year extension to his Liverpool contract after winning the LMA Manager of the Year award a few weeks earlier having guided the Reds to 2nd place in the Premier League scoring 101 goals in the process – the club’s most since the 1895-96 season and the third highest in Premier League history. He finished May 2015 with Liverpool in sixth and his job under scrutiny.
Raheem Sterling’s likely departure gives him another headache, as for already the second time in his tenure, he has to find a replacement for his top goalscorer – although Daniel Sturridge missed most of last season through injury.
That ultimately made his job a lot more difficult, as did £15 million man Mario “the postman does not celebrate when he posts a letter” Balotelli failing to deliver.
The Northern Irishman has wasted no time in recruiting for next season, already bringing in six new faces at the time of writing.
Charlton’s Joe Gomez (£3.5 million), Roberto Firmino of Hoffenheim (£21.3 million), Manchester City’s James Milner (free), Burnley striker Danny Ings (tribunal), Bolton’s Adam Bogdan (free) and Southampton right-back Nathaniel Clyne (£10 million) are the early Anfield arrivals to bolster what was a small side that struggled to cope with both Champions League and Premier League matches last season.
It is not a problem they will have this time around, which could work in their favour like it did two seasons ago, but with Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City being seven of Liverpool’s first eight away games and Jurgen Klopp still as yet being unemployed, Rodgers could well be soon nervously looking over his shoulder.
3) Arsene Wenger – Arsenal
Two successive FA Cup triumphs has certainly relieved some pressure on Arsene Wenger – it has silenced a few doubters, anyway – but this needs to be the season the Gunners finally start firing on all fronts.
The blow-your-socks-off signing of Alexis Sanchez for £35 million around this time last summer was the second sign of intent after the £42.5 million capture of Mesut Ozil the previous season from a manager who had attracted a reputation of being a bit stingy in the transfer market.
Sanchez swiftly showed with his performances why his manager paid the big bucks and the Chilean would later be named Arsenal Player of the Year.
Other signings Danny Welbeck, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, David Ospina, and January buy Gabriel Paulista did not quite have the same impact though – with unexpected progress coming from academy players Hector Bellerin and Francis “Le Coq” Coquelin.
Whether Coquelin really is the rock-solid holding role midfielder Arsenal have been craving for years remains to be truly seen, but for now it has filled a reasonably large gap in the “how far are Arsenal away from being Premier League champions?” puzzle.
One piece of the jigsaw has definitely been found, however with the acquisition of goalkeeper Petr Cech from London and title foes Chelsea for £10.9 million.
While the Czech Republic international was no longer the main man between the sticks for the Blues, he is still clearly a top stopper and a definite upgrade on both Wojciech Szczesny and Ospina with Jose Mourinho openly reluctant to sell Cech to a Premier League rival.
Unlike McClaren and Rodgers, Wenger is not wary of an early sacking, but only picking up six points from their opening 12 last season opened the door for Chelsea to romp to the title. A better start this August, and we may just see a first Arsenal triumph since that “Invincibles” team of 2004.
4) Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur
Despite failing to reach the much-coveted Champions League places, Pochettino’s first year as Tottenham boss was a success, finishing fifth and guiding the north Londoners to a League Cup final, but some fans are still not totally sold on him due to a lack of plan B.
The Argentine has wasted no time in planning for next season though, bolstering what was an, at best, dodgy defense with the proven Premier League buys of Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld (both undisclosed fee) who enjoyed successful seasons with Burnley and Southampton respectively in addition to FC Koln’s Kevin Wimmer (also undisclosed fee).
Spurs may attract some neutral admirers this season too with the English core that has the potential to develop in the coming years. Harry Kane had a phenomenal rise last season, going from third choice at Tottenham to most prolific English marksman in the Premier League in the space of seven months.
Ryan Mason, who has spent the majority of his seven-year Tottenham career out on loan to clubs such as Yeovil, Doncaster, Millwall and France’s Lorient ended the 2014-15 season as a once capped England international just a year after spending time on-loan at League One Swindon Town.
Eric Dier also found himself in the spotlight and the new additions of the aforementioned Trippier and Dele Alli (£5 million from MK Dons) join a rejuvenated Danny Rose, Three Lions regular Andros Townsend and Alex Pritchard who returns to White Hart Lane after two successful loan spells at Brentford and Swindon while, although Algerian, academy graduate Nabil Bentaleb will generate admirers from those who love a home-grown player.
This is similar to when he was at Southampton with Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert all getting England recognition as well as Calum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, Nathaniel Clyne and Jay Rodriguez all earning plaudits while Pochettino was in charge at St.Mary’s.
Pochettino will get a good opportunity to get some early points on the board once the difficult task of Manchester United away is chalked off with Stoke at home, Leicester away, Everton at home, Sunderland away and Crystal Palace at home following that as they look to go one step further and finally reach the promised land of the top four.
Maur of the same please, Poch: Pochettino with rising star Harry Kane.
5) Manuel Pellegrini – Manchester City
It is fair to say that Manuel Pellegrini starting the 2015-16 season at the helm of the Citizens a little surprising.
His pedigree of taking Villarreal to the semi-final of the 2005-06 Champions League and fellow Spanish side Malaga to the same stage five seasons later got him the Manchester City job with the target of making them in a force in Europe, which he has so far failed to do so.
Winning the league title in 2014 did Pellegrini’s reputation no harm, but a trophy-less season where City did not really challenge for the title, only made the last 16 of the Champions League and round four of both the FA and League Cup was underwhelming to say the least.
A huge rebuilding is expected at the Etihad this summer with young talents Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Jack Wilshere and Fabian Delph all linked with a move to the blue side of Manchester in order to give them a new lease of life and restore them as champions of England, and finally get them to worry Europe’s elite.
Failure to do so, however, may just result in the Engineer Pellegrini needing a servicing.
As a result of their 2-0 loss away to Chelsea on Sunday, Arsenal have now gone 14 games without being able to defeat a side in the previous season’s top four.
Eden Hazard and Diego Costa provided the goals while the away side did not even fashion a shot on target at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal have been bullied by the top sides in recent seasons. Chelsea have notched eight goals and conceded none in the last two meetings between the sides, Liverpool romped to a 5-1 win at Anfield last season, Manchester City won 6-3 at the Etihad and even David Moyes’ under performing Manchester United side took four points off their old adversary in the 2013/14 campaign.
Many suggest the reason behind this is that Arsenal get out-thought in midfield, esteemed pundit Gary Neville labelled them “confused” after their 3-0 loss away at Everton in April.
“Arsenal become so confused by it, if you’re going to defend in a four-four-two system you need legs and you need discipline, everything this Arsenal team didn’t have.
“They don’t understand how to defend a cross, they don’t understand the fact that when a left sided player goes across to the left side, the midfield player comes across.
“This is why Arsenal will never move forwards playing attacking players with attacking mindsets”
The likes of Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour and Gilberto Silva who were all so prominent in the 2003/04 “Invincibles” side are long gone and have been replaced by a new brand of midfielder who play a with a delicate passing style.
Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are the three players most likely to provide bite in the middle but Wilshere is too often sidelined and it is no secret that Wenger is looking for a new defensive midfielder.
Happier times: Arsenal haven’t quite been the same since Viera’s departure.
Sami Khedira and William Carvalho were both heavily linked to a move to the Emirates but neither signed on the dotted line at the North London club.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all added top class defensive midfield players in the shape of Nemanja Matic, Fernando and Daley Blind respectively.
Arsene Wenger’s outfit are already nine points behind the league leaders only seven games in, only two of which have been won along with four draws.
Arsenal are well known for their patient passing play but eight, possibly nine barren seasons without a trophy needs changing. Fast. It could all improve if they ditch their modern tactics.
Following Wednesday’s 0-2 defeat to reigning European Champions Bayern Munich, the Gunners look all but out of this season’s competition which would see them fail to get past the last 16 for the fourth successive time. They haven’t got past the quarters in five years.
What was highlighted most on Wednesday was how Arsenal were completely played off the park at their own game, at home, with Bayern having an astonishing 79% possession statistic. This wasn’t helped of course by Wojciech Szczesny’s dismissal on 37 minutes which forced Arsene Wenger to replace Spanish play-maker Santi Cazorla but Arsenal looked second best even before that.
England’s best “Spanish Footballer” comes in the shape of Jack Wilshere but he was non-existent for the full 90 minutes while Mesut Ozil was his usual “passenger” self, looking uninterested for the whole game, even his crucial penalty was incredibly lazy. He missed.
Ozil’s dip in form should have him looking over his shoulder.
This is not the first time Arsenal have been beaten by their own game, Barcelona did the same to them in 2011.
One of the most worrying aspects of the modern Arsenal is Wenger’s decreasing tactical knowledge. Following Szczesny’s sending off, the Frenchman brought off Cazorla while the consistently average Ozil was kept on. Even worse, when 0-1 down with 15 minutes to play, Arsenal’s main, possibly only, attacking threat Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hauled off for the defensive minded Tomas Rosicky.
Holding onto a narrow loss at home is embarrassing enough, even when a man down. What’s more embarrassing however is when it doesn’t work, Thomas Muller made it 0-2 with two minutes remaining.
Should Wenger have kept “The Ox” and Cazorla on, Arsenal would have possibly created more chances with Cazorla’s passing followed by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful jinking runs, but there was none of that, Arsenal stepped off Bayern and allowed them to pass them to death.
The argument that this would have left Arsenal more open defensively is a valid one, however Chelsea proved in 2012 that it can be done when they earned their hugely impressive 2-2 draw over Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and that was with ten men following John Terry’s clumsy challenge.
Wenger’s tactical failings also apply to his forward line. Promising striker Yaya Sanogo looked isolated for large periods of the Munich match however he won most, if not every header. This suggests that the France Under 21 International would benefit from a striking partner, something Arsenal don’t use. Sanogo could use his strength and heading ability to knock balls down to his partner, possibly Olivier Giroud or a new acquisition, and even grab the odd goal himself as he does get in the right areas but lacks the decisive finishing touch at this stage.
Where Chelsea’s formation, which is exactly the same as Arsenal’s, succeeds is that they have better goal scoring midfielders in the shape of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, formerly Juan Mata and occasionally Ramires. These get on the score sheet enough times that the limited scoring ability of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba isn’t too much of a problem. Whereas Cazorla, Ozil, and Oxlade-Chamberlain have 10 league goals between them, Hazard boasts 12 on his own.
This season has been a lot better for Arsenal, the double is still realistically on the cards in theory. Where they struggle however is overcoming the big teams. Their league results against last season’s top four are a 6-3 away loss to Manchester City, a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea, and an away loss and home draw against a below par Manchester United team. Not forgetting a 5-1 thumping away to Liverpool.
The Gunners have a tough end to March with Tottenham away followed by a trip to Chelsea before finishing at Manchester City at home. February’s fixture list has been cruel to Arsenal with that Liverpool loss and the home draw against Manchester United joining an FA Cup and Champions League tie. If they end March where they are now they will still be in the title race but given this season’s record against the top sides it looks doubtful.
The FA Cup is realistic after they eliminated Liverpool to reach the quarters but they meet Everton which is not an easy prospect. Arsenal will be boosted by Chelsea and Man United’s elimination but Man City are clear favourites to lift the trophy and carry on Arsenal’s long wait for silverware where it all looked so promising just few months ago.