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Why Arsenal need to let the Ox out of the box

He's a player with a growing reputation for fearless, attacking football. How he's managed this from the bench is even more remarkable...

by Andrew Boulton | October 15, 2014

‘What’s in the box?’ bellows a rather stroppy Brad Pitt in the film Seven. As it transpires what was in the box was a recently detached lady head, prompting what can only be described as a right old kick off. (I have heard there’s an alternative ending in which Morgan Freeman attempts to diffuse the situation by hoofing Gwyneth’s bonce into the desert, but I’m not sure that’s true.)

Unlike Brad, many England fans are rather more concerned with what’s in the Ox? Unlike finding the gooey remains of a loved one encased in cardboard, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is easy on the eye, a player with a growing reputation for fearless, attacking football. That is, he would be if anyone ever actually picked him.

There are little actual positives to be taken from 180 minutes of fairly underwhelming, though entirely victorious, England performances in the past week. Put the stuttering uncertainty and lack of imagination to one very depressing side and we’re left with a series of individual conundrums. Calum Chambers looked unsure at full back, while the Premier League’s outstanding English right back, Nathaniel Clyne, sat entirely unused on two benches roughly 1100 miles apart. Raheem Sterling got a bit sleepy and asked to have a little lie down while Wayne Rooney finished as if his feet were made of teabags.

And then there is the Ox. Given cameo roles in both games, he was full of bursting runs and delightful skills. While everyone around him pondered and dithered, he was direct, forceful and, oddly for a man in an England shirt, incredibly confident. That kind of dynamism is quickly becoming his trademark.Or rather, his eye-catching contributions to the 20 minutes of football he is occasionally allowed for England is becoming his trademark.

For whatever reason both Arsene Wenger and Roy Hodgson have in the past decided they have better options. In many ways Wenger’s patience with Mesut Ozil (or perhaps his typically Wengerian resolve to show everyone that he’s the smartest baguette in the boulangerie) has left Oxlade Chamberlain with fewer opportunities than he deserves.

It’s telling that the trajectory of the men selected ahead of him for England: Sterling, Adam Lallana, even Ross Barkley when fit, have been driven by their managers playing them as often as possible. And this season there are signs of Oxlade Chamberlain finally forcing his way into his manger’s thinking.

The equaliser against Spurs was a big moment, but it was his performance in the 4-1 tonking of Galatasaray that really caught the eye – 86% pass completion, taking on and beating his man successfully six times out nine, setting up Danny Wellbeck’s hat-trick goal. Big contributions.

Arsenal head to Hull on Saturday, on the back of seven straight wins against the Tigers but with a £42 million hole in their attack. Oxlade-Chamberlain has unquestionably suffered from Wenger’s new policy of recruiting semi-Galactico attackers, but coming away from international week low on minutes but high on confidence, he’ll be fresh and keen to prove his worth. And if Ozil’s critics find his contributions too drifting and incidental, the Ox approach to that attacking role is far more drive than delicacy. More bosh than dink.

Admittedly it’s tricky for Wenger, he’s a man drowning in attacking options (although largely because he buys them like they were Kinder eggs). But now Ozil is out until next year, I can’t help but feel that, if this really is the Ox’s chance, we’re going to see something even more startling than a distinguished screen actor casually half-volleying a human head into a sand dune.

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