The Blog

Have Arsenal Found Their Walcott Replacement?

Since Theo's season-killing injury, Arsenal have at times looked one-paced and bereft of defence-splitting ideas - with Mesut Ozil taking the brunt of the many Twitter rants or radio phone-in tantrums.

Ever since Theo Walcott injured his ACL during the Spurs FA Cup romp (not to be confused with one of Olivier Giroud's late night romps) Gooners have been lamenting Arsenal's lack of pace up top, especially following the recent lacklustre nil-nil with Manchester United. Since Theo's season-killing injury, Arsenal have at times looked one-paced and bereft of defence-splitting ideas - with Mesut Ozil taking the brunt of the many Twitter rants or radio phone-in tantrums.

Sunday's FA Cup victory over Liverpool showed just how valuable Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could be during Arsenal's run-in. Having returned from a prolonged injury lay-off, The Ox has impressed in central midfield, but his handful of appearances on the right flank had not exemplified his explosive dribbling ability, until Sunday.

There's no doubt that Arsene Wenger's long-term vision for Chamberlain is in the centre of midfield, but right now - given his excellent display against Liverpool -he would surely be best utilised on the flank, ideally playing on the shoulder of the opposing left-sided centre half.

Whilst Yaya Sanogo, strong, powerful and hugely impressive on full debut (if a little raw), occupied Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger as well as any centre forward has all season, Chamberlain was afforded the chance to run at Aly Cissokho on a number of occasions. Ozil, eyes widening, had a moving target to hit rather than the row of sitting ducks he was becoming accustomed to. But due to Chamberlain's higher starting position he was also able to isolate Agger for Lukas Podolski's goal, with ease. The give-and-go with Ozil was perfectly executed and afforded Chamberlain the opportunity to turn on the afterburners and blow Agger away.

Chambo is an intelligent young man - as is evident whenever he is interviewed - and he used that nous for both goals. The first, taking up an instinctive position from the second phase of an Arsenal corner that Liverpool failed to clear from danger (Only two teams have scored fewer goals from corners than Arsenal this season). Chamberlain was Johnny-on-the-spot, finishing efficiently, as Sanogo's rasping volley was blocked by Steven Gerrard, before asking to be fired into the back of the net . For the second goal, Chamberlain had the presence of mind to look up, when sprinting at a rate of knots, and pick out Podolski's out-to-in run. He made it all look so effortless, but it was fine wingplay and a perfect example of the kind of damage he can cause in the final third.

Back in August, Chamberlain's injury was a huge blow given that he had opted out of England's U-21 squad for the European Championships last summer in order to start the Premier League season with fresh legs, realising that this was a big season for him. On the opening day of the season, sun shining and a packed and expectant Emirates stadium, Chamberlain was a constant menace, lining up on the left flank, with Walcott on the right. He terrorised Aston Villa right back, Matthew Lowton, in the opening exchanges, creating the first goal of Arsenal's season for Giroud. Then his knee collapsed under a challenge, ruling him out for more than five months.

His return has seen him getting back to something near his best and his work rate has been excellent, yet whilst every player in modern football is required to track back - not just to chase and close down but to occupy space - Arsenal supporters would like to see less rashness in the tackle, especially when in his own penalty box.

There will be occasions where Chamberlain's power-bursts will be needed from the centre, as without Aaron Ramsey Arsenal struggle to hurt opponents with midfield runners as badly as they do with the Welshman timing runs into the box and getting on the end of things. That said, Arsenal's number 15 will be a valuable asset from a higher starting position, especially in Walcott's absence.