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The Ox Factor

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Early inquests into the start of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Liverpool career are as unhelpful as they are unfair.

Manchester City v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

A player needs to prove his worth at Liverpool before gaining the respect of the fans; sometimes, a player can clearly state his quality on a weekly basis without receiving sufficient recognition from the Anfield crowd. However, Liverpool is a fine home for players looking to make their mark and prove that they can handle as well as thrive under pressure.

For Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, is this a case of being guilty until proven innocent? After six seasons at Arsenal, the England international decided to take less money to remain at Arsenal in order to join Liverpool. Chelsea, the reigning Premier League champions, were turned down in the hope of securing a move to Anfield and developing under Jürgen Klopp. In short, the player really wants to be here.

Do not mistake this as a plea for sympathy or understanding as Oxlade-Chamberlain is one of the highest earners at one of the best clubs in the country. Liverpool may not be enough to satisfy the desires of Philippe Coutinho but remain an attractive club with a very good manager in Klopp. To the frustration of many, Klopp will work with players for as much and as long as he can to help them find their own footballing liberation or awakening. Players are generally given a chance to show what they can do under his aegis, but 163 minutes cannot be enough to conclusively decide that Oxlade-Chamberlain will never be good enough to be a Liverpool player.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is 24 and should be entering the prime years of his career. Yes, he was signed for £35 milllion with £5 million in add-ons for a weekly wage of £120,000 a week. However, we will soon see what he can do over the course of this season and perhaps beyond. Players have started well only to fade, players have started slowly before burning brightly later on, and sometimes players have proven to be mostly what they appeared to be from the very beginning. Time always tells.

There really does not need to be an inquest at this stage. After all, Dejan Lovren survived a disastrous first season as the most expensive defender in Liverpool’s history—a title he still holds till this day. If "the Ox" continues to look lost on the field in January or even March then perhaps there should be articles questioning his signing, and even then, he may prove to be a slow starter that will eventually fulfil a role as a solid squad member at the very least.

Liverpool at full strength with everyone fit has no place in the first team for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but this is not new information. Yet he has the tools to be an ideal Klopp player that can help Liverpool raise the floor in terms of squad depth and quality. Naby Keïta will be pushing the ceiling higher next summer, but certain expectations should be removed from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shoulders. Given that Jordan Henderson is an automatic starter as the six by default due to his role as captain and Coutinho starts as the best player in the squad, only one spot in midfield remains. That’s one spot for Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum, Emre Can, and the newest recruit.

Shape your expectations in terms of what he can do as a squad player when called upon. It is understandable and reasonable to expect better than what we’ve witnessed so far, but give the player a chance to rise or fall. As long as he’s supported and encouraged, there can be no excuses for failing to thrive on Merseyside. There is no problem with a player struggling to settle in his first month or so at the club, but there is a problem with damning a player so early in his Liverpool career.