It was a Deadline Day’s Eve chock full of drama, handily more than Merseyside had experienced in years. The headline news, however, was that Arsenal utility man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, after rejecting a completed £40m move to Chelsea, attracted the interest of Liverpool, moving from talks to agreed on fees and personal terms in a matter of hours.
The chance to play for Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp was apparently key to the 24-year-old's decision to move to Anfield and it can be presumed that the feeling was at least somewhat mutual. So what does the charismatic German see in the stalled starlet?
DOB: 15/8/93 (24) | Height: 5’9” (1.80 meters)
2016-17 Season: 45 appearances | 6 goals, 11 assists
Strengths: Electrifying pace, mazy dribbling ability, forward-thinking approach—it is easy to see the appeal of a player who brings similar physical and stylistic traits to the table as Liverpool’s other resident speed merchants, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah. Klopp’s high-pressing system dictates the need for pace, proactivity and decisiveness on the wings to punish opponents once the ball has been won on a turnover, all of which are attributes that Oxlade-Chamberlain provides in spades. For example, when playing as a winger, Chamberlain has averaged 2.8 successful dribbles in the Premier League, comparing favorably to the duo.
However, to end an assessment of the former Saints man as merely a head down, straight line dribbler would be reductive in line with the lazy manner pacy, young British players are often portrayed. In fact, the England international possesses underrated field vision and playmaking ability that has seen him play a number of positions in his time under Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger, with extended periods in central midfield, the no. 10 role, both flanks and, most recently, wingback.
A combination of technical ability, honed at the famed Southampton academy, along with a low center of gravity—he trialed as a rugby player for Aviva Premiership club London Irish at 18—makes him surprisingly effective in the middle of the park, his preferred position.
Wenger himself acknowledged the utility man’s underrated ability pulling the strings in midfield in an interview last year:
"He has the attributes to play in central midfield," the Arsenal boss commented. “He has that important quality—a little surge to get out of pressure.
"One of the things to get out of pressure is to have a little dribble to get away from the guy who closes you down and nobody has that more than Oxlade-Chamberlain.
"That is why he could be suited for the modern game because he has that capacity to get out of the pressure."
With Adam Lallana out until almost the New Year and Philippe Coutinho still sheepishly making his way back into the fold, it is plausible that Chamberlain might rotate with or even supplant Gini Wijnaldum in the midfield if he can adapt quickly enough.
With the most heated top 4 race possibly ever shaping up domestically, and a Champions League campaign to prioritize on the continent, the value in having of one player providing quality depth in four positions cannot be understated.
Weaknesses: While the list of Chamberlain’s positive qualities may be new information to Liverpool fans, the arguments against the abortive star are fleshed out and well-rehearsed, namely a lack of production to go along with a woeful injury record.
Like the majority of Arsenal’s key players in recent years, Chamberlain at times seems to be more familiar with the physio’s table than the football pitch. In his six seasons with Arsenal, he has failed to surpass 1600 minutes in a season, missing a whopping 82 total games to injury and completing the full 90 minutes only three times last term. Coming into a Klopp pressing system that is significantly more taxing than the Gunners’ more relaxed, continental style, there are valid concerns over the suitability of a depth player signed to hedge against injury who is himself injury-prone.
The hope has to be that the even distribution of injury horror across the Arsenal squad in modern times, that has seen the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla along with many others lose massive chunks of their careers, speaks to systemic problems at the London club rather than about Chamberlain himself.
An assessment of Ox’s paltry output on the pitch, however, is much harder to spin being as a major reason the young attacker failed to lock down a starting spot in the Arsenal squad was due to his distinct lack of end product in the final third. A haul of 20 goals and 32 assists in 198 competitive appearances for the club, which comes out to a goal contribution every 201 minutes, is a sorry return for a winger.
Such profligacy in attack will not be acceptable at Liverpool. The more direct, counter-attacking style employed by Klopp’s Reds might better suit Chamberlain’s skill set than Wenger’s preference for tidy, intricate passes around the box, but it will still be up to the player himself to step up to the plate.
Summation: Even in this historically silliest of seasons, an Andy Carroll-load of money reportedly shelled out for the Arsenal wantaway still managed to irk a portion of the Liverpool fanbase. Once thought to preclude the purchase of Monaco’s £70m-£92m rated Thomas Lemar, the chase for the in-demand Frenchman has actually continued apace even with Oxlade now secured (“now the owners spending too much money. #FSGout.” Is that how it works?), implying that the £35 million deal was made for entirely different reasons.
In his almost two years at the club, Klopp has earned the benefit of the doubt twice over on transfers and the assumption has to be that the talented Oxlade-Chamberlain will follow in the footsteps of the success stories still being written on Merseyside. His fellow Southampton graduate in Lallana, for example, can testify to the transformative powers of the Klopp effect, having shed the label of being all style and no substance under the German’s tutelage on his way to the best season of his career.
At the end of the day, both Chelsea and Arsenal have recognized the still-untapped potential within the Ox, as both of the contracts he turned down were set to earn the youngster higher wages than the likes Mesut Özil, Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
While the jury is still out on both Loris Karius and young Marko Grujić, virtually every single one of Klopp’s signings as Liverpool manager have not only met, but exceeded expectations. Recall that neither Mané nor Salah were first choice in Klopp’s transfer plans; yet, from the talismanic Mané down to the Chelsea castoff, Dominic Solanke, the prioritization of style fit over brand has led to each new recruit slotting seamlessly into the emerging Liverpool juggernaut.
Looking at the players that have blossomed under Klopp, including the likes of Lallana and Roberto Firmino, similarities between current Reds and Oxlade-Chamberlain, in terms of the intangibles qualities like attitude, desire, work rate, action-orientation and big game mentality, start to emerge. As fans of Liverpool Football Club, the hope is that maybe Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is actually the player Klopp wanted all along.