When the transfer window closed in August and the only player Liverpool had signed on deadline day was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I think most of our fans were wholeheartedly disappointed.
I think at the time, that was fair enough. Obviously our hopes and dreams for the window had been to sign a centre-back, and we those hadn’t been realised. We had very much put all our eggs into a big Virgil Van Dijk-shaped basket, and it hadn’t paid off. Instead we had paid £35million for an England international who had been stagnant at Arsenal for several years. Many fans, myself included, were questioning why we had invested such funds into a player who played in positions that didn’t really appear to need strengthening.
This wasn’t greatly accompanied by the fact that he’s had a steady start to his Liverpool career. Normally ‘steady’ would be a good thing, but our fan base is so impatient these days, and the general trend of Jurgen Klopp’s signings is that they’ve all really hit the ground running, particularly Mr. Mo Salah. Matching Salah’s quality so far this season has been an impossible task for almost everyone, so when Ox arrived and didn’t set the world alight in the same fashion, the move drew criticism from our own fans and rival fans alike.
But I think it was obvious there was potential. Bright sparks began to fly here and there, I remember thinking he was a breath of fresh air in the 0-0 draw with Man United back in October. Then he bagged a goal vs Maribor and further after that, West Ham, and suddenly we were in business. Obviously he arrived with intentions of being one of the middle midfield 3 for us, but after years of wing-back brainwashing by Arsene Wenger, he wasn’t quite ready to have make that role his own, particularly when we have so many options in midfield. But instantaneously what I could see he had brought was versatility. We have always praised James Milner for that. His ability to play wide, in central midfield or even at left-back made him quite the catch. Now, we had also signed someone who could do those things but was younger and probably slightly more athletic.
I’m writing all this for one simple reason: I am dying for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to start for us against Arsenal on Friday night. A man who was static in his development under Arsene Wenger for years, he would thrive under the chance to go back to the Emirates and perform. Only he knows his true feelings towards Wenger, the club and the fans, but he really has the chance to prove himself and I think Jurgen Klopp really needs to give him that chance. A lot has been praised about the ‘Fab 4’ this season and rightly so, 50 goals between them so far definitely isn’t to be sniffed at, but Oxlade-Chamberlain has been an absolute workhorse in the central 3 in the games he’s been involved in there. The Bournemouth game on Sunday was the game that really convinced me he was worth shouting about.
While the vast majority of the team had a great game on Sunday, Oxlade-Chamberlain was up there with the players who really stood out, along with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Mo Salah. His energy and work-rate and pressing was almost a reminder of what we’ve been missing in the absence of Adam Lallana, and his hunger to get a goal of his own is something we should never discourage or be negative about. He was outstanding. What summed him up in that game was the moment where he robs Jordan Ibe in Bournemouth’s own half and hits the post after a penetrating run. This kind of summed up, in a split second, the progress we’re making as a club. Ex-Livrrpool winger Jordan Ibe gets robbed by a significant upgrade who is much brighter and sharper than he ever did. Oh, the irony. It’s a pleasant irony, but irony nonetheless.
So Arsenal then, who would I play? I actually would stay unchanged from the Bournemouth game. I know this is probably never going to happen as Klopp likes a good bit of rotation, but I see no reason to change. Coutinho is much more dangerous playing on the left-hand side and a midfield 3 of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson gives a good balance. The involvement of Wijnaldum can often give Henderson a little more freedom to be more influential going forward, which is what Henderson is best at in my opinion. I know keeping the same team as against Bournemouth once again leaves Sadio Mane out of the side, but he hasn’t been through the best patch of form anyway recently and I think when you have such a quality front three of Coutinho, Firmino and Salah all sky-high in confidence, I think the teams picks itself in an attacking sense. But we shall see. Either way, I’m hoping to see Oxlade-Chamberlain on the pitch from minute one on Friday night. Up the Reds.
By Ben Kelly – @bkelly776
For more Redmen TV content including podcasts, subscriber exclusives and three new shows every week subscribe now and get your first month for FREE bit.ly/RMTVjoin