Can England youngster reclaim first-team place at Arsenal?

Arsenal and England youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is hopeful of a return to first-team action in January after being sidelined through injury since August.

The 20-year-old midfielder suffered a knee injury in Arsenal's opening day defeat to Aston Villa at the Emirates and has not featured since but could be set to return to the Gunners’ side for their upcoming FA Cup third round clash with archrivals Tottenham on January 4th.

The Englishman’s four months out of action hasn’t hampered the progress of Arsenal who remain top of the Premier League heading into their crucial test against Chelsea at the Emirates on Monday evening.

In Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s absence, the form of Aaron Ramsey, the return to fitness of England colleague Jack Wilshere and Spaniard Santi Cazorla, and the signing of Mesut Ozil have ensured manager Arsene Wenger has not been short of options in midfield.

Injuries to Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski have not seemed to bother the North Londoners either and with Walcott, their top scorer last season, back with a bang scoring a brace in their 6-3 defeat at Manchester City last weekend, as well as the expectation German forward Podolski could return from a hamstring injury imminently, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will likely find plenty of competition for his place in the team.

The youngster had improved remarkably last term, making 33 appearances for Arsenal across all competitions, scoring two goals and making 5 assists as well as featuring on seven occasions for England, scoring 3 goals and making two assists for his country after earning his England debut in May 2012.

The midfielder has predominantly been played wide on the flanks by Wenger and whilst he hasn’t yet graduated to the level of a regular starter in the first XI, he has been well on his way to that point in the last 12 months. His knee injury will not necessarily have jeopardised his seat on the plane to Brazil for the World Cup next summer but that will undoubtedly be on the youngster’s mind when he returns, as well as it will be a concern for his father, former England wideman Mark Chamberlain.

Arsene Wenger has quality in abundance in his midfield and wide areas – the Frenchman can choose from Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey for central positions which can also be occupied by his versatile attacking midfielders and wingers Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Serge Gnabry and, of course, record signing Mesut Ozil. With the return of Podolski and Walcott that means 11 players (including Oxlade-Chamberlain) will be fighting it out for just five places in the team (13 if you count Ryo Miyaichi and Emmanuel Frimpong).

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad will largely be dependent on his inclusion and performances in Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal team and given the immense quality and, crucially, experience of the players above, even with such a congested fixture schedule as they can expect in the New Year, there must be concerns over whether Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can reclaim his place in the team and, just as importantly, whether he can regain match-fitness and form in time to make that trip to Brazil in 6 months time.

Especially after a long spell out injured, as we’ve seen before with Ramsey and Wilshere especially, it takes time to gradually build back up the fitness levels, the form and the confidence to assert themselves over the first-team and maintain that level. There is no doubt the youngster’s attitude and desire are on par with his potential and quality but he will likely also need to have the patience to wait for his opportunities and, most important of all, he must grab those chances with both hands.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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