Going up against Stoke City at the Britannia is never an easy task, especially for Arsenal, who haven’t come away from there with three points since 2010, in the match that Aaron Ramsey was stretchered off with a horrific leg injury. Since then, Arsene Wenger and his squad have now travelled there six times, coming out defeated three, while drawing three, with Sunday’s scoreless draw factoring into those numbers. Along with those frustrating stats, Arsenal fans were left pulling their hair out after Sunday’s match for a few reasons.
There was a chance that Alexis Sanchez could feature against Stoke City, but I’m glad that Wenger didn’t risk him, knowing that he’d have one more week to work on his fitness ahead of the Chelsea match. Had he risked the Chilean against a physical squad on a very cold afternoon, that could potentially have added to the frustration.
Mesut Ozil’s absence was one frustration for Arsenal fans and likely Arsene Wenger as well, as the in-form German missed out due to a minor foot injury, which shouldn’t keep him out of their next fixture. Perhaps the most frustrating part of Sunday’s match wasn’t the result or even the collective performance, but instead, the individual performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
With Ozil at home watching the match from his sofa, I wasn’t completely opposed to having Ox in the center of the park. He’s proven before that he could be a good asset there, with his pace and creativity hopefully able to help unlock a stubborn Stoke defensive unit.
Instead of getting a creative Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal fans were left wondering how long it would take for Arsene Wenger to take the young Englishman out of the match. It just didn’t work in the middle for him with Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini. He continuously made the wrong pass or his pass would come up short. Apart from two shots in the first half, one forcing Butland to make a save, Ox was far from delivering the performance Arsenal needed from him, in a match that could have sent Arsenal two points clear of their title rivals.
Replacing Mesut Ozil isn’t easy, we know that, but a much better effort was expected. I was a firm believer that this would be Ox’s year to establish himself at Arsenal, but instead, it’s been a year of some injuries and disappointment. What is going on with Ox? It’s not easy getting your confidence back if you don’t play consistently, but he sure as hell hasn’t been helping his case with some of the lackluster performances he’s been putting in.
If he needs some motivation on how to take your chance, he should have a look at Joel Campbell. The Costa Rican got his chance because of some injuries, he grabbed that opportunity with both hands and doesn’t look interested in letting go.
Thanks to our friends over at Squawka, I was able to look at some of Ox’s stats from Sunday’s match. I must admit, I was completely shocked at the fact that his pass completion percentage was 78%. I thought it was much lower. What was more alarming is the lack of passes he had 20-yards from Butland’s goal. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Squawka rated him as the second best performance in the match, only behind Petr Cech! Really?! Did we watch the same match?
In the first half he had one completed pass into or near the box, but he struggled to get into the match. He wasn’t involved enough, and when off the ball, he wasn’t demanding or showing he wanted the ball. That could be due to lack of confidence, but in that roll, he needs to show he’s hungry and interested to take responsibility and create some offense for his side. Instead, he looked lost.
Seeing how Wenger isn’t the type of manager to take someone off at half, it was obvious Ox would be back, but for how long?
Whatever Arsene Wenger said in the locker room clearly didn’t give him any added confidence. He continued to struggle, making Arsenal’s offense very one dimensional. They had no creativity down the middle, making it easy for Stoke to eliminate that threat. Arsenal’s main threat now was down the wing, with a hard working Joel Campbell looking to make something happen, and Theo Walcott, who also looked completely out of it.
Mark Hughes noticed that Joel Campbell was their main threat, so Diouf came on in the second half, making things very difficult for the Costa Rican. That was when the squad needed something to happen in the center of the park, but it just wasn’t happening.
I was frustrated, and most Arsenal fans on Twitter were as well.
Oxlade-Chamberlain subbed off for Chambers. Seems a defensive move, but honestly the latter probably offers more going forwards nowadays.
— Messi Minutes (@MessiMinutes) January 17, 2016
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances created map vs. Stoke. Hasn’t flourished in the No.10 role. pic.twitter.com/tBQYOsUxiT
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 17, 2016
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that Ox could be a great player. He has all the necessary weapons to be great, but just as Walcott struggled to develop since his arrival at Arsenal, Ox seems to have hit a wall. He’s had a few nagging injuries which have conditioned his development, but when he’s given his opportunities, he is painfully inconsistent. One match he could look like the most promising young footballer in the game, the next, he looks like he should be playing on the reserve squad.
So the question is, what is there to do with Ox? Obviously he will continue to be in the side and will get his opportunities, but why is he struggling to really establish himself? Having him in-form and full of confidence would be an incredible weapon for Arsene Wenger, but that’s just not happening right now. If he hasn’t taken his opportunities now with Alexis out for a decent amount of time, as well as Wilshere, Arteta, Rosicky and Welbeck, when will he get serious chances if and when the squad is fully fit?