5 big Premier League players facing make-or-break seasons at their current clubs
3. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Few people doubt Oxlade-Chamberlain is a good player. The problem is, even fewer could tell you what exactly he’s good at
Unlike the above names, Oxlade-Chamberlain is hardly at the age where his career hangs in the balance. But he will turn 23 the day after Arsenal’s opening game of the season, and at this stage it’s surely not too much to ask for a player of his quality to have settled on a defined position, or at least a clear function within his team. His versatility is fast becoming more curse than gift.
Even if he hasn’t marauded onto the scene as his early Arsenal showing suggested he might (remember the 18-year-old Ox orchestrating proceedings against Milan?), few people doubt he is a good player. The problem is, even fewer could tell you what exactly he’s good at.
He’s a more-than-competent passer, ball-winner and ball-carrier – and he can strike a ball, too – without being exceptional at any of those skills. The player himself has always insisted he is a central midfielder, and yet nearly all his outings have been out wide.
He certainly doesn’t have the touchline-hugging instincts of a natural winger, nor the goal-poaching ones of a wide forward. But then he also lacks the silk and finesse of a central playmaker, and the quick-thinking craft of a deep-lying midfielder. Most of all, he lacks goals – for an attacking player, seven league strikes in five seasons at Arsenal is a pretty grim return.
There remains plenty of time for all this to be addressed; 23 is still young. But you wonder how keen Arsenal would be to persist with Oxlade-Chamberlain after another season of faintly disappointing drift.
It’s not panic stations yet, but Arsenal’s inadvertent utility man could certainly do with using the coming year to guide his game, and by extension his career, in one clear direction or another. In a sport increasingly populated by specialists, the jack of all trades is acquiring an ironic uselessness.