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….

Djourou admits frustration, Vermaelen admits admiration – AFC

So it seems the words from Ottmar Hitzfeld managed to register with Johan Djourou. Earlier this week the current Switzerland manager made the suggestion to Johan that it may be in his best interests to sever his ties with Arsenal in search of more regular football which will in turn enhance his opportunities with his national team.

Over the past season the Swiss stopper has slipped down the pecking order for the centre back position at the heart of the Arsenal defence. Given the continual improvement of Laurent Koscielny, The return to fitness of Thomas Vermaelen and the purchase of Per Mertesacker Johan has found himself as 4th choice centre back.

His performances compared to the 2010-11 season have not been as commanding and assured meaning his progression has stalled.  Add to that having to play out of position a number of times Johan never really got into his stride when called upon. Most players need a run of games to shake off the rust and maybe he never had that to really force Arsene Wenger’s hand in selecting him more often.

Djourou was quoted as saying in an interview with Swiss media “I’ve never played so little and especially not in my own position. If an interesting offer comes, I’ll look at it carefully”. It’s a fair comment from the defender, he hasn’t played as often in preferred position and so he needs to evaluate any opportunities.

What Arsenal will miss out on if he were to move on is his quality as a relative 4th choice centre back. Not many clubs can boast 4th choice centre backs in the same caliber as Johan. You only have to look over at a club like Manchester City and the walking disaster that was Stefan Savic. At times he seemed on a one man crusade to derail the Manchester club’s title charge.

Although Johan may not be as popular with many Arsenal fans; last season the alternative was Sebastian Squillaci, the still quite raw Ignasi Miquel or moving Song out of position to cover. I saw no problem with him as a 4th choice defender though most footballers would not be accepting of being 4th choice for a position when at the age of 25 and a current international player.

I touched on the alternatives for Johan and you have to question whether Arsene has any plans to promote within if the Swiss defender moves on. I do not see Sebastian Squillaci being on the Arsenal books next season; I believe he will be moved on. His time with Arsenal has been a constant downward spiral and even Wenger must realize his confidence will only reduce further the longer he stays at the club. Then again Wenger could surprise us all and keep him around. Ignasi Miquel shows promise but is still a bit raw. He would benefit from first team experience on loan somewhere for a season to aid his development.

Kyle Bartley will be returning to the club after his time on loan with Rangers. Would he be an option for that slot in the team? Despite the turmoil at the Glasgow club young Kyle still managed to play a number of games in the first team and in his fair share of high-profile old firm derbies. Although he may not have always played at centre back whilst on loan he still gained valuable experience and probably enhanced his mental strength for performing at a big club. I suppose Arsene will have a look at him over pre-season and assess whether he has stepped up to the level required to represent Arsenal.

There was some nice news emanating from the Belgian camp this week as our vice captain declared his love for the club and how happy he is there. In preparation for the upcoming friendly against England Thomas is hoping that he will overcome a niggling groin injury to be able to face the three lions.

To hear Vermaelen state: “There will be no transfer for me. I love London. I’ve got a house there, I’m happy there and I don’t see any reason to ever leave the club” It does help restore your faith that players can openly declare they are happy at a club and assure fans how they really feel.

Many times when a player has left his club to join up with their national team they usually have free license to talk about everything about themselves ranging from contract negotiations, how unhappy they are, which clubs they admire to their favorite flavor of ice cream.

Usually the players use it as a chance to vent something they don’t like going on at their club. They aren’t under the press constraints usually imposed on them during the season by their club and so many fall into the trap of revealing too much. The more intelligent footballer’s now realize just because they hold an interview in their mothers tongue it can be translated into English and reported in our press.

So it is definitely nice to hear the positive words coming from Thomas Vermaelen. Not usually the stuff our Red Tops would find headline news but the kind of news that is of interest to Arsenal fans.

Good on him, that’s the kind of loyalty and determination his international team-mate Jan Vertonghen should take note of.

Enjoy your day people

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