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Why this Arsenal player's future is out wide, not in the middle

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to return for the trip to Aston Villa but despite Arsene Wenger's vision, his qualities are best served on the wing.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's return to first-team football for Arsenal this evening comes against the side that threatened to curtail his rapid progress at the start of this season.

The opening-day 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa perhaps doesn't haunt Gunners fans as much now as it did then, with Mesut Özil subsequently arriving for a club record fee of £42m after the Emirates Stadium debacle, where sections of the Emirates faithful appeared to be turning on Arsene Wenger for a lack of signings and what appeared an evident lack of quality on the pitch.

The Ox - as he is belovedly known by the Gunners' fans - strained his medial knee ligaments midway through the opening period after earlier laying on the opener to Olivier Giroud and his comeback has been an arduous one.

Chamberlain comes back into the first-team fold this evening for the trip to Villa Park as Arsenal look to go back to the top of the table and the England youngster is playing catch-up somewhat, with the team excelling in his absence.

But there is a window of opportunity suddenly opening up for the 20-year-old, with Theo Walcott ruled out until next season with a knee ligament injury of his own. No player likes to see a fellow team-mate injured, of course, but now Chamberlain has the chance to stake a claim for the right-wing berth.

He will face new competition in the form of Serge Gnabry, while Tomas Rosicky, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere have all filled in as viable alternatives at various points this campaign. But the right wing is where he belongs, even if Arsene Wenger's plan is for him to operate centrally.

Anyone would be mad to argue with 'Le Prof', particularly after masterminding Arsenal's unlikely rise to the Premier League summit but his young prodigy could be the type of wideman so sorely lacking from the Gunners' play at times this year.

While he undoubtedly holds the technical qualities to play in the middle, with his quick burst of pace and passing ability both notable aspects to his repertoire. But what was so refreshing and enticing about the Ox's breakthrough at the club was his desire to get at a full-back, beating them with tricks and flicks and delivering a ball from out wide.

It may smack of traditionalism in the contemporary world of false nines and ball-playing centre backs but watching an out-and-out winger run at a defence is gives Arsenal a vast array of options to work with. Walcott's injury deprives Wenger of another wide option and the speediest, at that, but Chamberlain's timely return offers pace and a direct attacking outlet.

Given Arsenal's possession stats have decreased on last season, a reliance on counter-attacking football has emerged.

Using Chamberlain in this type of gameplan brings out the best in the England international and the Gunners as a whole, whereas the ability to exercise his speed is less called upon from the holding midfield role Wenger has seemingly earmarked for his young star.

Besides, isn't it a bit crowded in the middle, with Chamberlain expected to compete with Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini et al for a position. He has looked free and a breath of fresh air when turning out for the club on either flank. 

Leave him there, and let him strut his stuff.


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