When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Mikel Arteta yesterday just before the half hour mark, plenty of Arsenal fans may have started to fear the worse with Aaron Ramsey and the Ox protecting their back four.
However, the 19-year-old produced a stunning performance in the centre of midfield, which now makes it doubtful that Arsene Wenger will have to go out and spend millions on midfield cover ahead of the new season.
Through his own admission, it’s where Oxlade-Chamberlain prefers to play and the only reason he’s been used in a wider role has to be the calibre of players already playing through the middle of the team for the Gunners.
The fact Wenger can now have confidence using the Ox to cover in central positions means the cash he would have spent on a central midfielder can be used in other, more pressing areas of concern.
Arsenal need to improve in several areas this summer ahead of a tough Premier League season next year and a tricky route into the Champions League.
A defender, a winger and a striker are all necessities and the money which may have been used to try and tempt Cesc Fabregas back to the club can now be re-pooled and re-distributed to give Arsenal a great chance of getting their first choice targets in those positions.
What seems to make Oxlade-Chamberlain so effective in that central role is the fact he loves to have the ball at his feet and loves to drive forward when he has the chance to do so.
He’s very similar to Jack Wilshere in terms of his size and the bursts of frightening power and pace he’s capable of as he brings the ball forward and away from the defence.
The former Southampton starlet played in the centre against AC Milan at the Emirates last season and terrified them in the 3-0 win, arguably his best performance for the club.
Versatility is important for any player who is trying to break into a big side on a regular basis and it’s no different here. The fact he has more than one way to now get into the side will work in his favour.
He’s given every indication that he would be confident playing in central midfield which is important for the club if the likes of Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta or Santi Cazorla pick up injuries over the summer or in pre-season.
Wenger has said Arsenal are ready to spend big this summer but even so, they cannot afford to waste money as they lack the power and resources of teams such as Chelsea and Manchester City.
The rough estimate of £20 million which the Ox could save the club if Wenger feels he now doesn’t have to go after a central midfielder, will make all the difference with Arsenal’s other targets.
How do you think he played in central midfield?
image: © Ronnie Macdonald