Oxlade-Chamberlain to start v Belgium. No pressure – AFC

So the Ox will be released on Saturday against the Belgians. Roy Hodgson has revealed that he will give starting opportunities to both Danny Wellbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in England’s final warm up game before Euro 2012 kicks off next week. A proud moment for all gunners fans to see the young midfielder start for his country at Wembley.

Being so adaptable it will be interesting to see where Hodgson will deploy the midfielder in the team. For the England u-21’s Alex was used more as a right-winger, he fulfilled that role to great success often leaving the left back in his wake. He would also drift inside and contribute to teams build up if service was not getting to him on the right; a useful attribute to have as long as the player doesn’t try to do everything. Don’t get me wrong not every game for the u-21 was a man of the match performance, his reputation was such at that level that teams would double up on him to nullify his threat.

At Arsenal last season he was used mainly on the left of the front three to great effect, his earlier games were on the right but his adaptability was so that he was comfortable on either wing. Not forgetting his stand out performance in the middle of the park against AC Milan young Alex has proved his usefulness in a number of positions and was probably the main reason he was included in the final 23 England squad.

This will have been such an amazing 12 months for the young midfielder, from playing his part in securing promotion to the championship with Southampton to sealing his move to the Arsenal. The Ox’s transfer slipped under the radar of most if not all gunners fans. Given the turmoil of the uncertainty of the futures of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas the signing of a youngster from league one was not exactly going to appease the Arsenal faithful. At the time we wanted to strengthen our squad with replacements of equal stature of the players we were losing not potential. The Ox was an unknown entity and Arsenal fans would never have envisaged the impact he would make in that coming season culminating in an inclusion into the Euro 2012 squad.

The game that for me that put Alex on the map was the Carling cup game against Shrewsbury. It was a chance for many gunners fans to see this kid in the flesh at the emirates. Although he understandably had a nervous start to the game he eventually grew and grew in confidence. Again after initially starting on the right hand side he often drifted into the middle and dictated the game when on the ball. It was an exciting performance from the Ox and he ended the game with a goal and man of the match performance. All us fans could talk about leaving the stadium after the game was how good the Ox was, Arsene had found another gem.

With gunners fans won over after that game Oxlade-Chamberlain really introduced himself to the nation with his performances against both Manchester clubs. This time he received the exposure as these games were televised for all to see. First up was the Carling cup game against Manchester city; where he was a constant threat to the team and was able to prove himself against top class premiership opposition. Although we lost the game young Ox came out with a lot of credit. His game against Manchester united in the premier league fixture at the emirates really put him in the limelight. Although the game was marred by the controversy of his substitution for Andrei Arshavin the Ox had done enough in the game including an assist for Robin Van Persie to show nationally he was a special talent.

It was from this game where Arsene Wenger decided to protect the young midfielder from the added exposure and increased expectancy. At a time when we were going though a bad patch and we probably needed the Ox in the team more regularly Wenger took the decision to quell the pressure on the youngster by carefully selecting his appearances in the team. Something a bit harder for Arsenal fans to understand at the time but on reflection at the end of the season we would agree was the right choice to make.

We have already experienced the exponential increase in pressure on Theo Walcott when he was signed and thrust into the England set up. Every game he played was met with high expectancy and led to many frustrated fans when he hadn’t skinned the whole team and scored a hat trick. I think Wenger has used the experiences with handling Walcott to ensure similar pressure is not experienced by Alex.

The worrying thing about Alex involvement with England is the increased chances that he will be relied upon in the aftermath of the injuries to Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard. Barry wasn’t replaced with a midfielder when he withdrew from the squad and Lampard’s replacement is Jordan Henderson who has hardly set the world alight this season for Liverpool.

We saw at the last world cup what an effect a poor campaign can have on England players and it’s hoped if that is the case the press take into account the Ox’s age. Alternatively a good campaign and performances for young Alex could catapult him into uncomfortable messiah like status. A good campaign could certainly be a big boost for the coming season, the experience of high-profile games in large tournaments could push Oxlade-Chamberlain’s development to the next stage.

One thing the Ox has shown is he is a level-headed young man, has a good family unit around him and has the focus to take the opportunities made available to him to carve out a successful career.

It all starts from today really, enjoy your game Alex and take it in your stride. No pressure….

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