Football

In Ox we trust | Hodgson must gamble on Chamberlain

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Ox is a 'wild card' that must be used by England. (©GettyImages)
Ox is a 'wild card' that must be used by England. (©GettyImages).

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has it all - pace, skill, technique, and awareness, with a dash of infectious youthful enthusiasm.

At just 18, the uncapped Arsenal midfielder is already being billed as the 'wild card' inclusion in Roy Hodgson's England squad for the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

But, the difference this time is that unlike other precocious young talents, given the nod more for the experience of a major tournament and the benefit of their future development, Oxlade-Chamberlain is ready to start for the Three Lions. If given the chance, his impact will be huge.

"He's a very very exciting player. He's given one or two performances that have made quite an impression on me, not least of all when Arsenal played Milan at the Emirates Stadium [in the Champions League]," reflected Hodgson in his Football Association press conference following the announcement of his 23-man squad.

"He has a maturity beyond his years. He is a precocious young talent. I think, sometimes there has to be a place in the squad for precocious talent.

"The fact he is that type of player who can play wide or central, also affected my decision. For the future he is one that I think we'll be seeing a lot of if he can continue as he started. It'll help England's future as well."

Looking over Hodgson's squad selection, it's quite obvious that England's central midfield will be made up of a trio of thirty-somethings. Newly appointed captain Steven Gerrard is a certain starter having been handed the armband, and, injury permitting, Scott Parker will also be first-choice. Frank Lampard's impressive end-of-season form also means he is pushing for a starting spot to complete the compliment in the middle of the park - otherwise there is Gareth Barry.

The loss of Jack Wilshere - who missed the entire 2011-12 campaign, and is in a race to be fit for the start of 2012-13 - means that England will be forced to rely on the old guard again this summer. But, what Gerrard, Parker, Lampard and Barry boast in experience and passing ability, they lack in zest and mobility - attributes that wide men like Theo Walcott, Ashley Young, James Milner, and hopefully, Oxlade-Chamberlain will provide.

"I can't guarantee Alex will play," added Hodgson. "But I'm expecting that Alex will now be able to deal with that situation and won't be overawed by the Gerrards, Lampards, Barrys and Parkers. I expect him to stand up to that.

"The only way I'll find out is to select him and sling him in at the deep end. Even if he doesn't swim now, he'll learn to swim in the future. But I think he'll swim now."

Oxlade-Chamberlain has already performed above all expectations since moving to north London in a £15million deal from Southampton last summer. Nobody anticipated he would make 26 first-team appearances for Arsenal this season.

Arsene Wenger seemed reluctant to throw him in at the deep end during his first Premier League campaign, preferring instead to use him as an impact sub, whilst also giving him experience in the Carling Cup, FA Cup and Champions League.

The comparison with Walcott is a natural one, given the position Oxlade-Chamberlain plays, the club he came from, and currently turns out for. Their careers have taken a similar path, but make no mistake about the current Gunners teenager's international recognition. It is nothing like when Walcott was called-up by Sven-Goran Eriksson for the 2006 World Cup at the tender age of 16.

Oxlade-Chamberlain may only be 19 months older than when Walcott eclipsed Michael Owen to become England's youngest player, but physically he is far more mature and developed. He has more experience too, having made 45 appearances for the Saints in their League One promotion campaign before his switch to the Emirates Stadium.

Saturday's friendly against Norway, in Oslo on May 26, will provide the perfect opportunity to experiment, by including Oxlade-Chamberlain in the England team, in the absence of senior players from Chelsea, Manchester City and Wayne Rooney (given extra time off due to his two game suspension at the start of the tournament). His chance, as Hodgson said, to sink or swim.

The final warm-up game against Belgium at Wembley on June 2, will be the time for the Three Lions boss to start his preferred XI to face France in the opening group game nine days later. Whether or not that line-up will include Oxlade-Chamberlain, only time will tell. Hodgson had the conviction to include him in his squad, now he must go a step further and start him.

Topics:
Arsenal
Internationals
Football
Alex
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
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