As the excitement dies down from Arsenal’s valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to claw back four goals from Milan in the Champions League on Tuesday there is a danger of a sense of emptiness overtaking the Gunners, inevitable perhaps after such strenuous efforts went without tangible reward. The most lasting effect of one of the most memorable 90 minutes of the entire season may be the confirmation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as no longer merely a precociously talented youngster but a player fully capable of starring in the biggest of occasions.
Despite the result and injury the Milan match may have been Oxlade-Chamberlain’s most impressive so far of a season in which he has stood out more than once already. The summer signing from Southampton announced his arrival at the Emirates Stadium with two goals in eight September days, first in the League Cup against Shrewsbury Town and then more emphatically in the Champions League against Olympiakos. But it took until February for Oxlade-Chamberlain to make a similar impact in the Premier League, when two goals against hapless Blackburn Rovers during Arsenal’s 7-1 rout of the relegation strugglers finally showcased the forward’s talents in the Premier League. It may have been an afternoon when Arsenal dispensed with Blackburn with ease and a ruthlessness rarely seen in that part of North London, but Oxlade-Chamberlain capitalised to the maximum.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has grown into life at Arsenal, evidenced by his appearance record. Between the start of the season and the end of December Oxlade-Chamberlain made only six appearances for Arsenal, and just one in the Premier League – a half-hour cameo in Arsenal’s humiliation by Manchester United. From 9 January until 7 March, after the Milan game, Oxlade-Chamberlain has appeared 12 times, doubling his appearances in a shorter time span. That is partly down to the absence of Gervinho during the Africa Cup of Nations but it should be remembered that in that same period, Arsenal could call upon the loan services of Thierry Henry, yet Oxlade-Chamberlain was still more frequently used. With Andrei Arshavin returning to Russia and Henry to New York, the path is open for Oxlade-Chamberlain to continue his development, increase his importance to Arsenal and, potentially, to England as well.
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