Wenger protective over Arsenal's own 'Rooney'

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It would take some performance to overshadow a Robin van Persie hat-trick in any given Arsenal game, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did exactly that in Saturday's 7-1 demolition of Blackburn Rovers at the Emirates Stadium.

The 18-year-old winger helped himself to his first and second Premier League goals in only his third league start for the Gunners - a performance so natural and instinctive that it led to comparisons to a young Wayne Rooney from his manager Arsene Wenger.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has made quite an impression since his £12million arrival from Southampton in the summer - a move that has drawn obvious comparisons with Theo Walcott, another Arsenal and former Saints player, propelled into the spotlight at a young age.

However, the England U21 international has arrived in the Premier League later than Walcott, and has the benefit of a solid season of first-team football - albeit in League One - behind him.

Walcott also impressed against Blackburn, setting up two of Van Persie's and one of Oxlade-Chamberlain's goals, but there is a common perception that the 22-year-old, who has made more than 200 appearances for Arsenal, remains a talented athlete who has to think about what to do on a football pitch, while his understudy simply does it.

The balance, injection of pace and vision shown by Oxlade-Chamberlain has already drawn plenty of plaudits, but even more impressively the talented teenager boasts composure far beyond his years, an attribute that, according to Wenger, puts him in the very top category of player.

"I feel that is always a brand of top players," the Arsenal manager said in Saturday’s post-match press conference. "They just play.

"When you saw Rooney start he played like it was natural; the same with [Cesc] Fabregas. They are happy on the football pitch and comfortable.

"I feel Oxlade-Chamberlain could play central midfield [and] he could play second striker because he has something that is exceptional – he has a short back-lift and so when he has a shot on goal it's difficult to block.

"He can go right and left and he is the kind of guy who feels comfortable on the football pitch, not nervous."

The innocence and freedom with which Oxlade-Chamberlain plays is testament to the fact he truly believes he belongs on the big stage. But there is no arrogant swagger here, only justified belief in his ability.

His display in Arsenal's defeat by Manchester United last month has already prompted calls for his inclusion in England's squad for Euro 2012, but the youngster is not letting things go to his head.

"I have belief in myself and in my own ability," Oxlade-Chamberlain recently told the club's official website. "I just know that I have to keep working hard and learn off the boys, and then hopefully the rest will come.

"At the moment it's going quite well for me so I'm just going to keep working hard. It's been a tough challenge but I knew when I signed that I had to work hard and take little bits from everyone around me.

"There's quality players at this club and a quality manager so you just have to learn from everyone. I've just tried to take it in my stride and keep developing my game.

"[In terms of Euro 2012] I am just focusing on Arsenal at the moment and I'm also in the England Under-21 squad. All I can do is focus on what I am involved in.

"Obviously it would be very nice [to play in the tournament] but I just have to keep my feet on the ground and take it step by step."

It's clear from his performances so far that Oxlade-Chamberlain is thriving on the buzz he has already created, but his manager is determined not to thrust him into the spotlight in the same manner that another of Arsenal's bright English hopefuls, Jack Wilshere, had been before him.

"At the start of the season you think: 'I will play him 20 games, maybe 25.' That's what happened to us last year with Wilshire," Wenger explained.

"When they deliver a performance they play 45 [games] and then they play for the national team and then they get injured. It's about trying to find the right balance between having confidence and not being too early and too much under pressure."

As long as Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to make waves in the Premier League, it's inevitable that the pressure will only build. After all, top-flight football is a treat to be enjoyed, not a burden to be feared.

Premier League
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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