As one surveyed the wreckage at Anfield last weekend, the case of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain was more interesting than most.
As Liverpool’s heavy-artillery proved too much for the Gunners, ‘The Ox’ was symptomatic of the malaise which encapsulates the entire Arsenal squad. Here was a player intrinsic to Arsenal’s chances willfully watching the game pass him by. A player who, aged 24, is primed to assert himself as an established English international and in a world cup year no less. Here, at the very least, was an Arsenal player strongly linked with another club surely cognizant that a strong performance would strengthen his hand in impending transfer negotiations.
And still, no response. No response when his team lost the ball and certainly no response when Liverpool extended their lead. Indeed the only sign of aggravation was when the England international threw his tracksuit top on the floor having been substituted. An act of folly, betraying feelings of ineptitude borne out by his insipid performance. Chamberlain has been under Wenger’s tutelage since 2011, forever expected to ultimately deliver on the tremendous talents at his disposal. Clearly, sufficient progression hasn’t been made and his case gives the lie to the idea that Wenger is a master-educator better than most.
The higher echelons of the Premier League are now staffed mainly by managers that frame themselves as educators. As transfer fees climb to preposterous levels, the ability to improve players on an individual basis is proving a very efficient way of improving a side. As is now receiving wider recognition, Emre Can’s ability has developed almost immeasurably since Klopp took him under his wing, Pep’s persistence has cajoled the likes of De Bruyne and Fernandinho to greater heights while David Luiz, and Victor Moses to name but two are players re-born under Antonio Conte.
Chamberlain’s willful adaptation to the role of wing-back is his most notable advancement in recent years, although given the malfunctioning nature of the defensive system he is tasked with underpinning, it’s unclear how much credit he truly deserves. Why then is Chamerblain sought after so vigorously by both Chelsea and Liverpool? Why should Chelsea part with £40 million for a player so shorn of an ability to improve? It would appear that fellow English clubs have realized that castigating Chamberlain is to exonerate the real culprit. Wenger, and the culture of mediocrity he has imbued Arsenal FC with are truly at fault for such plodding player development. Not the player himself.
Oxlade-Chamberlain has fallen victim to the same culture that has blighted Theo Walcott for the better part of a decade. Indeed it is that same mindless disregard for learning and development that saw Nacho Monreal hopelessly flounder on the left side of the defence on Sunday while Sead Kolasinac grew numb on the bench.
Jamie Carragher was quick to label these players ‘cowards’ in the aftermath of Sunday’s meltdown but such a reaction is erroneous and misguided. Players are the most visible embodiment of the culture a coach and club create. Klopp’s charges have been passion and fervour personified this year while Chelsea have displayed tremendous resilience despite transfer market woes, easily attributed to Antonio Conte. Wenger’s sense of bewilderment and intransigence can just as easily be mapped on his own team’s performances.
‘The Ox’s’ recent displays clearly don’t warrant a £40m move, but therein lies the most interesting aspect of such a prospective deal. Such a deal would not be predicated on the player’s form, but rather an unyielding faith in the notion that Wenger’s ineptitude as a coach only grows greater each year. That his nous as a motivator is all but extinct and that each player that passes under his guise is in fact far below that level they should be able to strive for.
Should Chamberlain’s transfer to Anfield be completed, as is widely expected, many view the £40 million pound as good business for both parties. A future which once looked at best stale and at worst toxic suddenly takes on a more enlightened complexion for the 24-year-old. Under Klopp’s wing, he will likely look a more confident player, assuming additional responsibility on the pitch and pushing the likes of Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson for starting berths in a Champions League side. Gone will be the days of being party to atrocious and scarring performances that befall him at regular intervals at Arsenal.
But most importantly he will no longer be just another one of Wenger’s perilous projects but will be pushed to fulfil his clearly huge potential. Wenger ultimately failed to help ‘The Ox’ hit targets fully within his grasp but under the guise of Klopp, he will strive for those he never knew existed.