The difficulty of playing ‘The Ox’ card


When Arsene Wenger decided to replace Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at Bolton, he did not suffer the torrents of abuse directed towards him during the loss to Manchester United.


The Gunners chief did have to deal with something else this time though – the displeasure of ‘The Ox’ himself.


When the 18-year-old was substituted for Andrey Arshavin at Emirates Stadium against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side he clapped the crowd and quickly made way for his Russian team-mate.


It was a slightly different story at the Reebok Stadium, however, where the television cameras managed to catch a glimpse of a very brief headshake and utterance of an expletive as he made his was to the bench.


It was surprising because the former Southampton starlet was visibly tiring and had just failed to track Nigel Reo-Coker on one of the many Bolton counter-attack in the latter stages of the game.


Even more surprising that when such a reaction is seen to be a possibility, he did not do something similar when withdrawn against United. These are probably questions that only the player himself can answer but the issue is becoming more contentious with every appearance.


Oxlade-Chamberlain may merely have been frustrated because he had missed a good chance and had not been able to make amends for it before his departure from the field.


It could have been a reaction of exasperation out of sheer fatigue – we must remember that he has only just begun to play top-flight football regularly in the past two weeks.


Or, more controversially, it could have been a sense of injustice at the fact that Theo Walcott had remained on the pitch after another forgettable showing.


Whatever the motives or reaction, the fact is Arsene Wenger was probably doing the right thing, much as he was for Aaron Ramsey.


Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably the most exciting new player in the Premier League at the moment and so there will always be clamour to see more of him, but both Arsenal and England fans must think long term.


Gervinho is still away with the Ivory Coast and all Arsenal’s other wide players are woefully short of form, which has made ‘The Ox’ even more important to the team over the next few weeks.


To play him too often too quickly could result in exhaustion and injury – no matter how much people talk of youthful exuberance and a willingness to play on.


In light of this, it is important to remember the current state of Jack Wilshere, which should be enough warning about the dangers that surround overusing a player. This should count doubly when he has only just started to make his way into the first team.


The other side of the coin is that Arsenal need him now more than ever due to him being the Gunners’ most threatening looking player since he made his full debut against United.


Wenger made a gamble with this last season with Wilshere and that has backfired severely this term – not only for Arsenal but England as well.


Oxlade-Chamberlain must be treated with extreme care if anybody is going to get the best out of him. This goes for expectation as well as basic fitness, as misjudgements over either could have negative side-effects for both the player and those needing the best out of him.


At this current juncture Wenger is playing the safest hand but this can only go on for so long before it becomes to the detriment of his club and their Champions League qualification aspirations.


If Oxlade-Chaberlain keeps up his current form up, there will be a deafening cry for him to be taken to Euro 2012 by Fabio Capello, especially when you consider the other options in the wide role.


Ashley Young is currently injured; Oxlade-Chamberlain’s colleague Theo Walcott is a long way form his best; Aaron Lennon has begun his seemingly habitual fade in the second half of the season; Adam Johnson is not playing enough; Daniel Sturridge is playing positively but fruitlessly, beside a desire to play through the middle; James Milner doesn’t rarely plays there anymore for City.


There is still a way to go before any decisions can be made over who makes the trip to Poland and Ukraine, or who doesn’t.


There is also still a way to go before a league champion is decided, or who the four teams to qualify for the Champions League will be. For this reason Wenger is playing his cards right over Oxlade-Chamberlain.


However, for Arsenal’s sake and for the sake of England’s Euro 2012 squad, sooner or later, ‘The Ox’ has got to play.

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