AS Liverpool confirm their fourth signing of this summer, there has been a fairly mixed reaction from supporters.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) 31 August 2017
There are a few who have gradually warmed to the idea of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the red of Merseyside as the club’s interest in him has intensified over the course of the transfer window.
There are still those who will point towards his numbers over his six-year spell at Arsenal and struggle to get excited. But how much of that has been down to the environment the player has been in and the factors around him?
It’s of little coincidence that his best return of goals and assists came during the 2016-17 season, where Arsene Wenger showed trust in Chamberlain for the first time by giving him an increased role, and he reaped the rewards for it.
The 24-year-old scored six goals in all competitions and picked up 11 assists, playing the majority of his games as a right winger. But that has reportedly been part of the issue for Chamberlain. While his attributes appear to suit the wing position — quick, strong and able to beat a man — it’s still the understated aspects of the game that Chamberlain excels in and that may be why he sees his future as a central midfielder.
So far this season, the former Arsenal man leads the league in take ons and is one of the top midfielders in terms of interceptions. Both of those stats would suggest Chamberlain is ready made for a place in Jürgen Klopp’s midfield.
While not excelling personally in Sunday’s clash between Arsenal and Liverpool, the way The Reds set up and how they overcame The Gunners showed glimpses of how Chamberlain could benefit the 4-0 victors that day.
Liverpool punished Arsenal by picking up the ball in key areas and making direct runs from deep positions. The sheer number of runners made it almost impossible for Arsenal’s back three to cope with and it showed in the four goals — all of which came as a result of winning the ball back and getting in the box quickly and in numbers.
To have another willing runner coming from deep can only be a benefit when Liverpool believe they can catch expansive opposition on the break. And with the way The Reds tend to spread goals around the team, who’s to say that Chamberlain can’t continue to surpass his past Premier League scoring tallies as he did last season?
When Chamberlain first broke on the scene as a youngster at Southampton, he managed 10 goals and nine assists over the course of one season in League One. He came to the Premier League as a 17-year-old with bags of potential and the weight of a £12million transfer fee on his young shoulders.
Most will agree that over six years later, Chamberlain is yet to meet that potential but a large majority of Liverpool supporters would back Klopp over anybody to get that out of him. Where Wenger has shown a lack of trust in Chamberlain and in some cases mismanaged him, Klopp will ensure the player feels empowered — though it remains to be seen whether his main role will be in his favoured central midfield position.
His versatility may be the reason that Chamberlain won’t always get his own way, but it is one of the most attractive things about the move. When Sadio Mane was absent last season Liverpool lacked pace and it really hindered them when teams sat deep, with no runners to get in behind or drag defenders out of position.
The Reds have looked to address that with the signing of Mohamed Salah this summer but beyond that it could have been seen as an issue. Chamberlain’s versatility means, alongside his coveted central midfield role, he can play on either wing and that will suit Klopp if he was without either of his starting speedsters.
One of the worries will be his injury record and there may be some cause for concern on that front. According to data from Transfermarkt the England international has had some recurrences of problems throughout his career, particularly issues with his knee, though strangely he managed to stay fit for the longest while getting more regular game time last season. Hopefully that will continue to be the case.
It’s easy to disregard the £35m man as another player who never met his potential, but at 24 Chamberlain still has a lot of learning to do and has some valuable experience to aid him — as well as a manager with a track record for getting the best out of players.
Wenger himself said earlier this summer: “Personally I believe he is a hugely talented player who is on the way up. He will continue to move up because the potential is there.
“Today he is conscious of his qualities. Personally I believe he will be a very great player.”
It seems unlikely that a star who once showed glimpses of shining so bright won’t still have something in him. And right now, there’s few better places than Anfield to realise that potential.
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