Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: slowly but surely proving his worth to Liverpool

Rewind a few months to the ridiculous hysteria which surrounded Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain following his £35 million move from to Liverpool from Arsenal. He was lambasted left, right and centre at every opportunity from fans of his old club, social media in general and even from Liverpool supporters seemingly prepared to write him off as a “flop” after a couple of brief cameo appearances off the bench.

After his first start in the League Cup defeat against Leicester, viral video compilations of him getting tackled and misplacing passes were making their way around Twitter and Facebook.  Arsenal fans claiming they “robbed” Liverpool for £35 million (or £40 million, as widely quoted to further emphasise the point). Liverpool fans questioning why on earth so much money had been spent on a player with just 9 league goals in his entire Arsenal career to come and sit on the bench.

None of this was ever justified. Of course, questions were raised as to whether Oxlade-Chamberlain would justify such a hefty outlay given Liverpool’s abundance of attacking riches and the more pressing need to upgrade at centre-back. While the career move represented a clean slate for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he was never given a fresh start by fans and the media who were keen to put him down, for whatever reason.

He was unfortunate in the way his arrival coincided with Liverpool’s torrid September, in which the team’s overall performances and disappointing results were completely unfairly attributed to Oxlade-Chamberlain despite hardly getting any minutes on the pitch whatsoever- an easy scapegoat for misplaced criticism.

Oxlade-Chamberlain arrived as a player with a reputation for inconsistency and being injury-prone, with no clear sense of his best position. At times, he was sensational for Arsenal (see his performance against Bayern Munich in the Champions League in 2014), demonstrating vast talent and potential, while on other occasions he would fail to live up to the expectations he had built for himself when he first broke through as a highly promising teenager.

Liverpool were never signing the finished article, rather a player with plenty of key attributes suited to Jürgen Klopp’s style of football and with the potential to develop into a more well-rounded player under the German’s management with a much-needed change of scene after having stagnated somewhat at his previous club.

Despite the absurd obsession with writing him off at the very first opportunity, Oxlade-Chamberlain has stayed patient and has had to bide his time to get minutes on the pitch, adapting to Klopp’s tactical demands and settling into a new environment. To begin with, he was mostly given only very short appearances off the bench in which he would always look bright and positive without being able to build up any real rhythm due to a lack of regular game time.

His lack of confidence was also clear when he first joined, often taking the easy option, afraid of making a mistake and lacking faith in his own ability to drive at and beat opponents, which is a great strength of his. Gradually, we’ve seen him grow into his own skin at Liverpool over the past few months to the point where he now looks very much like an established and valuable member of the first team squad.

He might not be a nailed on starter when everyone is fit, but rarely has that been the case and the importance of having strength in depth to allow Klopp to rotate the squad during a densely packed fixture schedule will be imperative to what Liverpool are able to achieve this season- and something which was clearly absent last campaign.

With his versatility in being able to play across numerous positions both in midfield and attack, Oxlade-Chamberlain lessens the burden on the likes of Sadio Mané and Mo Salah, providing another pacey wide option should either of those two be unavailable- as has proven the case with Mané of late. Philippe Coutinho has also had his fair share of injury struggles, while Adam Lallana has barely featured at all, and thus the presence of Oxlade-Chamberlain has been much more of a necessity than many might have expected when he first joined.

After netting his first goal in the 7-0 drubbing of Maribor in the Champions League, Oxlade-Chamberlain has cut a more confident and relaxed figure, able to express himself more freely on the pitch and demonstrate what he has to offer. Having enhanced his reputation with promising performances against Huddersfield and Maribor at Anfield, he was rewarded with a first league start away against West Ham, in which he scored a crucial third goal at a time when West Ham had just pulled one back and were piling on the pressure at the other end. Liverpool went on to win 4-1, with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal a key moment in changing the momentum in the contest- a deserved reward for his persistence throughout the game.

Fast forward to the present, Oxlade-Chamberlain has started consecutive league games for the first time for Liverpool, having been one of the standout performers in the 1-1 draw against Chelsea, picking up an assist for Salah’s goal with a neat, prodded through ball to set the Egyptian through on goal. Described by Klopp as “dynamite”, his ability to drive past opponents on the ball with pace and control, both centrally and out wide is hugely effective, and while there remains considerable room for improvement in terms of his end product, he has shown a capacity to deliver excellent crosses into the box and use the ball wisely in attacking areas.

In the 3-0 victory against Stoke, Oxlade-Chamberlain was again one of the top performers for Liverpool- not spectacular by any means, but quietly efficient and more than capable in his role, contributing in no small part to a highly impressive team performance and result as Klopp was able to rotate five of his front six with no discernable drop-off in quality- Oxlade-Chamberlain being the only one of those to start both the previous two games.

Heading into the hectic festive period, fatigue and injuries will inevitably rack up- not just for Liverpool, but for most if not all sides- and Klopp will undoubtedly be aiming to get the very most out of all his resources. The likes of Mané, Firmino, Salah and Coutinho will not be able to start every single game and therefore there will be plenty of minutes for the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge and Dominic Solanke. With a highly favourable run of fixtures coming up, plenty of points are there to be won and how well Klopp is able to rotate his side will be a defining factor in how Liverpool negotiate a busy December and, crucially, to avoid burnout in January, which proved so damaging last time out.

We haven’t seen the best of Oxlade-Chamberlain yet and there is surely plenty more to come, both this season and beyond. While he hasn’t exactly produced any fireworks as of yet, he’s shown himself to be a more than capable member of the squad with the ability to go up several levels further. There is something to be said for a quietly efficient, dependable and versatile player of his ilk who can be dropped into a number of positions and do an admirable job for the team- both in his contribution on and off the ball.

Now the nonsensical criticism surrounding his arrival has finally dissipated, Oxlade-Chamberlain is slowly but surely, week by week, proving his worth as a valuable asset for Liverpool.

 

 

 

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