Ox Office Hit
Thinking back to that fateful opening day defeat against Villa, leaving aside the awful result, one of the most disappointing things to come out of the game was the knee injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that ruled him out for half a season. For the one we call ‘The Ox’, a four month lay-off put paid to plans for what was expected to be a breakthrough season. However, in his first League start at the Emirates since that day in August, The Ox showed that time on the side-lines did nothing to arrest his development as he scored a devastating match-winning brace to put a brave Palace side to the sword.
Both goals highlighted the youngster’s fearless attack-minded approach. His first coming following an instinctive run into the box before scooping Santi Cazorla’s floated pass over Julian Speroni and into the back of the net. Not to compare the two, but it was the kind of late run and finish that we were once accustomed to seeing from a certain Swede during the ‘Invincibles’ era.
His second goal, in contrast, demonstrated his confidence with the ball at his feet as he finished a driving run and one-two with Giroud with a well-placed finish into the bottom corner in position where many other players might have instead tried to seek out another teammate.
After all the consternation and anger over what can only be described as a shambolic showing in the January transfer window, the performance of The Ox was more than welcome. To borrow the famous Wengerism, his return could almost be like a new signing *runs and hides*.
Chamber of Commerce
At just 20 years old, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s prodigious talent suggests that as the years pass, he could end up being a huge star at the club. Personally, I was never convinced by the manager’s commitment to ‘Project Youth’ given how few young players, either purchased or promoted, have gone on to be a success. In fact, following Emmanuel Frimpong’s sale to Barnsley on Friday, only two members of the 2009 FA Youth Cup winning squad are still at the club; Jack Wilshere and Francis Coquelin (who himself is currently out on loan).
For years too there always seemed to be the contradictory viewpoint from some quarters which would argue that certain young players were ‘ready’ for first team action yet then use their youth/inexperience as an excuse to defend their mistakes. There was a short period when some people believed that having a low average squad age was actually something to brag about.
All that said, when a particular young talent is one of exceptional quality, then by all means put him in the first team. The Ox certainly falls into this category so there ought to be few complaints about his inclusion; particularly if he produces more performances like this one against Palace.
An incredible amount of column inches have been rightly dedicated to the paucity of options up front and the over reliance on Olivier Giroud as the team’s leading front man. With a rock solid defence and an embarrassment of riches in midfield, the conventional wisdom is that Arsenal are but one more top class centre forward away from greatness once again. It has also become accepted that the inexplicable failure to strengthen in this area recently could well go on to be the difference between success and failure this season.
While it would have been bloody nice (and absolutely necessary) to see a new striker brought in either during January or the previous summer, Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first and second goals of the season now takes the number of different goal-scorers in the Arsenal team this season to 14 in the league and 17 in all competitions.
In lieu of one prolific goal getter, the team has learned to spread the workload around with other players contributing a lot more. This equal labour approach has actually served us well so far this campaign and, given the lack of transfer activity, will have to continue between now and May if Arsenal are to achieve anything tangible.
At Half Mast
Chamberlain’s opener came as Arsenal flew out of the traps at the start of the second half. Once again, the performance after half time was much improved on the 45 minutes before the break. While Arsenal had no trouble keeping the ball in the first half, Tony Pulis’ Palace could allow them to do so with some level of comfort as they failed to do anything worthwhile with it. While the build-up was as good as you might expect, quite often in the final third, passes were over-elaborate and regularly ended up being misplaced. Clear cut chances were at a premium as Arsenal had very few ideas against the well-organised away side.
However, as they have shown numerous times this season, Arsenal don’t allow themselves to be frustrated and were rewarded in a much improved second half display. You always got the sense that once Arsenal stepped up a gear there would be no way back for the visitors and so it proved.
One of the main reasons Arsenal are flying high this year is the ability to get themselves into that comfort zone, often later on in games, and not relinquish their superiority as they might have done in previous years. Give me routine and repetitive 2-0 wins over ‘exciting’ 4-4 draws any day of the week.
Palace, while mostly content to soak up pressure, did almost catch Arsenal unawares after the Oxlade-Chamberlain’s gave us the lead. The Eagles could well have nicked themselves a goal to take back South of the river but thankfully while Nacho Monreal momentarily fell asleep, Wojciech Szczesny was fully alert to prevent Cameron Jerome’s header beating him from point blank range. Again, the save was a testament to his continuing improvement having seemingly learned a valuable lesson having conceded from an almost identical position at Southampton a few days earlier.
There was a certain sense of familiarity to this match. A slow start, a vastly improved second half and yet another 2-0 win (I make that 11 for the season) and of course, another clean sheet. To date, the team have been a model of consistency and it goes without saying that maintaining this steady course, particularly over the much discussed ‘tough run’ in the coming weeks, is crucial. We may be riding high right now but it could all change in a matter of weeks.
Extra Reading: Mean Lean's Match Thoughts