Arsenal's £12m Chamberlain so much more than a Walcott clone
Former Saint has familiar pedigree but will add bite rather than pace to Wenger's midfield
Tuesday 09 August 2011
With many Arsenal fans hoping for change this season, the signing of a teenage winger from Southampton may disappoint.
But Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who left the south coast for north London last night, offers a rather different threat from Theo Walcott, with whom he is so easily compared.
In biographical terms, though, the similarity is obvious. Oxlade-Chamberlain, like Walcott, had played at Southampton from a young age, joining the academy at the age of seven. Oxlade-Chamberlain was born in Portsmouth, as his father, Mark Chamberlain, was playing for Southampton's local rivals at the time. Oxlade-Chamberlain completed one full season with the Saints before leaving for Arsenal, giving him slightly more time at St Mary's than Walcott enjoyed before his transfer in 2006.
Oxlade-Chamberlain played twice in 2009-10, but it was only last year that he emerged as one of the Football League's more exciting younger prospects. He made 41 appearances, almost entirely on the right wing, for the Southampton side which, under the management of first Alan Pardew and then the former Scunthorpe manager Nigel Adkins, won promotion from League One thanks to a second-placed finish. Oxlade-Chamberlain scored 10 goals, and was named in the League One team of the season.
Arsenal supporters who are concerned that they have merely signed the 2006 version of Theo Walcott need not be concerned. Oxlade-Chamberlain is of an obviously different build from the England international, much stockier, with a stronger upper and lower body. He may not be able to match Walcott in a sprint, but he may be more able to hold off physical defenders. As with Walcott, it is his movement and positional play which will require the most work on the London Colney training pitch although the quality of his touch and delivery suggests he has the natural gifts to learn quickly.
Arsène Wenger was enthusiastic about the player for whom he paid £12million, potentially rising to £15m. "He is an exciting young player who will provide us with creativity and offensive quality," he said. "Alex is a versatile player who can play in a number of positions. He can play as an attacking centre midfielder, or wide left and right. Alex is a perceptive passer of the ball and has a great understanding of the game and looks to be a very good team player."
It is Oxlade-Chamberlain's more direct approach that may, in time, solve Arsenal's problems. For all the attention on their defensive failures, Arsenal had little attacking variation last season, failing to score past Manchester City, Blackburn, Sunderland and Newcastle at home. In a team of neat, imaginative footballers they lacked the muscular wing-play that Manchester United benefit from via Luis Antonio Valencia. Oxlade-Chamberlain does not turn 18 until next Monday, but in time he could provide a similar variation in Arsenal's often-predictable frontline.
The 17-year-old was thrilled after signing a long-term contract. "I'm so excited to be joining Arsenal," he said. "It's a fantastic club and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity of playing football at the highest level. Arsenal have a great manager in Arsène Wenger, top-quality players and an attractive style of play.
"I'm now looking forward to meeting all my new team-mates and giving absolutely everything in an Arsenal shirt."
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