The uncertainty surrounding Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s Arsenal future continues to rumble on. The versatile midfielder has just 12 months remaining on his current deal and recent reports suggest he has no intention of extending his stay at the Emirates.
The Sunday Times claim the latest contract on the table is a take-it-or-leave-it offer and Oxlade-Chamberlain will now run down his current deal.
The Gunners have not promised the versatile midfielder the game time he craves and that has proved crucial in the 23-year-old’s decision. However, Arsenal have told Liverpool, a club perpetually linked with Oxlade-Chamberlain for a number of months, that the former Southampton man is not for sale.
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The Liverpool Echo believe the Reds are undeterred by Arsenal’s stance and hope to add the England international to their arsenal as well as RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keïta. Jürgen Klopp is looking to bolster his squad in preparation for an assault on the UEFA Champions League.
But the Liverpool Echo claim the red half of Merseyside are leading the race to sign the player and are ready to test Arsenal’s resolve with a £25million. A fair amount given he cam leave for free this time next year.
But why are Liverpool so keen on the midfielder?
The club’s pursuit of the Arsenal man has been somewhat relentless.
The recruitment team at Anfield are seemingly in the market for players who are intelligent, both on and off of the ball, and who can play a variety of roles.
They need to flexible in their style, have explosive acceleration, and, perhaps most importantly, have not quite reached fulfilled potential, yet. There’s still room to grow and a gear or two to go up. It also helps to have played for Southampton.
Oxlade-Chamberlain ticks all of those boxes.
Last season, he was played in a central midfield role on a few occasions and the results appeared to be very positive. It seems to bring out the best attributes in his game and allows him some freedom to attack.
It’s perhaps why Liverpool are said to be his favoured destination, with reports implying Jürgen Klopp would use him in a central role.
The idea to use him in such a way was originally formulated to compensate for injuries and Mohamed Elneny being away on international duty. Oxlade-Chamberlain has taken the impressive parts of his game and combined it with a similar drive that Santi Cazorla showed in the position, something that he was asked about before Arsenal’s win over West Ham United.
“Definitely,” he told the Arsenal matchday programme.
“I want to be someone that first and foremost does their defensive job and does what the team requires in terms of being a solid midfielder who can get the ball, keep the ball moving and put the ball into areas for players like Alexis, Theo, Danny or Olivier going in behind.
“But I can definitely add that part of the game, where I pick the ball up deep and drive past players and open things up.
“In a funny way I find it a lot easier to do that in central midfield, maybe because the players aren’t as quick there.”
The 23-year-old could easily play as part of the Liverpool midfield in the Adam Lallana role, as a more attack-minded box-to-box midfielder, or the Gini Wijnaldum position, which is more of a conservative version of Lallana, operating in deeper areas.
Furthermore, Klopp could easily find a home for him as part of the attack at Anfield.
His pace and acceleration suit a counter attacking system but the fact he’s comfortable in possession would mean he’d be an asset in a possession based side looking to break down a deep defensive line.
Only Sadio Mané (2.5) and Philippe Coutinho (2.3) completed more dribbles than Oxlade-Chamberlain (2.1) last season. The impact the Brazilian maestro had on the Liverpool midfield in the final two games of the campaign was abundantly clear.
He was brave on the ball and looked to beat a man and drive Liverpool forward as opposed to just simply looking for a safe pass. The Arsenal man has that in his locker and his explosiveness plays a part in him taking players out of the game.
He’s switched on defensively and is disciplined enough to not neglect covering the adventurous full-backs in his team having played the wing-back role. It helped him hone the defensive side of his game.
And as Kristian Walsh of the Liverpool Echo alludes to, Oxlade-Chamberlain has a big game mentality.
He started in games against the Reds, Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea since the turn of the year. The midfielder also started home and away against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, as well as both the FA Cup semi-final and FA Cup final.
The Swiss Army Knife
The former Saints man has played a host of positions for Arsenal throughout his time at the club. He’s featured on both flanks, centre-midfield, right wing-back and has the skill-set to operate as a number ten if necessary.
He’s the sort of player all flexible managers want in their squad. It enables the team to have a variety of options without having to waste a substitute or use players who aren’t as interchangeable in positions they aren’t comfortable in.
While some may claim such versatility hinders the development of a player, the flip side to that is that it carves out a niche for players in squads.
Despite playing a number of positions during the 2016/17 season, Oxlade-Chamberlain maintained an impressive average.
For example, Jordan Henderson only managed 0.2 key passes more than the Arsenal man while Emre Can averaged 0.1 fewer. Both, for the most part, played centre-midfield where you’re expected to see a lot of the ball.
His goal output would need to improve with Klopp looking to spread the goals throughout the team, but in terms of assists only Wijnaldum (9) managed more.
Klopp may have referred to reports linking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with a move to Liverpool as “nonsense” back in December but there’s nothing nonsensical about his suitability and it’s easy to see why the Reds appear to be intent on bringing him in this summer.
He fits the club’s profile, the manager’s profile and he’d add much needed depth to the squad.