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Football News: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Zero to Hero?

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Zero to Hero?
Image from: premierleague.com

Introduction

In August 2017, just shy of the Summer transfer window slamming shut, Liverpool FC signed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ("Ox" from this point onwards) for a reported fee of around £35,000,000.

It was seen by some as a staggering amount to pay for what many saw as an underachieving player, with only a year to run on his contract. I myself, backed the transfer from day one but more because I love a 'trier' than because I thought Klopp could turn him into a real top player. I only expected him to be an impact substitute!

I have long believed that there is a truly toxic atmosphere at Arsenal that not only hampers some of their players, but also creates a lot of blame games. Arsene Wenger has long outstayed his welcome, clinging onto his job by winning second rate trophies in recent years.

The Arsenal fan base have no more patience and I don't blame them. They pay more than anyome else, and get served a marginally above average quality of football. As a result though, some of their players are unfairly made into scapegoats for a lack of success. (I will never understand why Jack Wilshere gets a free pass though)

The Ox was inexplicably wasted by Wenger. After bursting onto the scene at Southampton as all action goal scoring midfielder, Wenger decided he was a winger. Anybody who has watched the Ox on the wing will tell you that he does not look comfortable coming from wide as a starting position.

Then Wenger completely lost his head and tried to copy Antonio Conte's 3-4-3 system about 3 months into It's short lived success at Chelsea. Nobody suffered more than the Ox after this, as he was laughably shunted to wing back. The level of mismanagement was criminal.

Unfortunately, some Arsenal fans turned on the Ox, when his only crime was being wasted by a manager who'd lost the plot. It got to the point where not only were they pleased to see the back of him, but they actually mocked Liverpool by thanking them for "overpaying" for such an "average" player.

That 'ping' you just heard was the timer on the oven. Your humble pie is ready to come out.

As the Ox was at Arsenal for a long time from a very young age, I will only compare the Ox's last season at the Emirates with his first at Anfield, otherwise it will be unfair on Wenger to question his coaching ability, by suggesting the Ox has improved a lot from when he was 18. That does tend to happen!

All statistics used to support my opinion will be Premier League only, unless stated. Arsenal last season finished on 75 points, which is not far off Liverpool's expected tally this season. The Ox also played a similar number of minutes (1,562 and 1,369). So, just how much has he improved?

Defensive Work Rate

The Ox has always worked hard. He is passionate, aggressive (but fair), and has remarkable stamina levels for a player carrying as much muscle weight as he is. I haven't seen any noticeable improvements in his work rate, because it was never an issue anyway.

Under Jurgen Klopp, despite being used sporadically so far this season during his settling-in period, he has still made 17 successful tackles at a rate of one every 80 minutes. He has even been dropping back to help clear the lines with 13 clearances made at one every 105 minutes.

For Arsenal last season, the Ox completed 30 tackles at a rate of one every 52 minutes. He also made 41 clearances at one every 38 minutes. It is only fair to point out that he did play a lot of games at right wing back (so he was bound to make more clearances), but this shows how under appreciated he was at Arsenal as he actually made more tackles for them.

Roberto Firmino makes more tackles than anyone else in the Liverpool squad except Emre Can, so you can't really put that down to the Ox playing deeper at Arsenal. He just got stuck in more at Arsenal, though there is a potential explanation as to why, which I'll explain later.

If you watch the Ox play and judge him subjectively, you don't need to be an expert in statistical analysis to see he works very hard for whichever team he is in and whatever position he is asked to play. That is one side to his game which you can't credit Klopp for. It is just how Ox is as a player and he has always at least tried to help his team out defensively.

Attitude

That brings me nicely onto my next point. I do not mean this lightly, when I say that the Ox has one of the best attitudes I have seen from a Liverpool player in my time as a supporter. High praise indeed when you think back to guys like Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger and Lucas Leiva.

The Ox is never involved in any controversy off the pitch, he doesn't dive, he doesn't make nasty tackles (just 12 yellow cards in 280 senior club games in all competitions), and the one time he did do something a bit naughty on the pitch, it was so out of character that the referee sent off Keiron Gibbs instead. At least we know the Ox can play in goal in emergencies!.

However what impresses me most, is the way he conducts himself in general. There was a single most important moment for the Ox since he came to Liverpool and I can bet every Liverpool already knows what I'm about to say.

After a breakthrough performance in midfield against Bournemouth in December, the Ox made himself an instant cult hero in the tunnel. In the post match interview, a 'fully loaded' question was fired at Phillipe Coutinho regarding his future. Whatever answer Coutinho gave would've created headlines that would be hugely distracting to the club going into a crucial period.

Here is what the Ox stepped in to say:

"Phil’s a Liverpool player. He’s a Liverpool player right now and he’s doing really well for us. He’s been the most professional person I’ve seen all season. He’s been top quality from the start and every time he gets on the pitch he does his all for the club. That’s the most important thing right now. It’s not fair to ask those kinds of questions. He gives us his all every game and that’s all we can ask from him."

Ox 1-0 Journalist. As you can imagine, the headlines where all about the leadership displayed by the Ox, and the journalist became a laughing stock instead of getting the juicy story he tried to manufacture. That was not the only incredibly mature and diplomatic thing the Ox has done though.

First of all, credit him for not once bad mouthing Arsenal, their fans, or Wenger. Lot's of players have a sly dig at their former employers, but he hasn't had a bad word to say about them. Secondly, is how many times he has admitted he expects more from himself in post match interviews. His desire to be better is an example that every aspiring young footballer should follow.

You can't give this one to Klopp. This is all on the Ox. He is just an impeccable proffessional that deserves praise for his behaviour on and off the pitch. If the Ox can continue to improve on the pitch, he has to have some kind of chance of captaining Liverpool in the future.

There are too many examples of his good attitude to cover them all in this piece. The most controversial thing he has done since signing for Liverpool, was shaving his chest on TV.

Goal Scoring

So if Klopp hasn't improved the Ox' s work rate or attitude, where has he improved him? The glaringly obvious aspect is goals. In his final season at Arsenal, the Ox scored 2 league goals, at one every 781 minutes. One of them was actually a very fortunate deflected goal against Liverpool, ironically.

The Ox played a lot of games at wing back, but played just as many on the wing. He didn't score many because frankly, he wasn't being used or coached correctly. Whatever Wenger does on the training ground, he was not improving the Ox in front of goal. Unlike Jurgen Klopp.

For Liverpool, the Ox has 3 league goals before the season is even over, and at a rate of one every 456 minutes. A remarkable improvement that is partly down to the Ox being more clinical, and partly due to Klopp telling him to get into better goal scoring positions.

To further explain just how much the Ox has improved in front of goal, he has a 63% shot accuracy this season, compared to 44% for Arsenal last season. It is only logical that if you hit the target, you have an infinitely better chance of scoring than if you don't.

Even in the Champions League, the Ox has 2 goals for Liverpool this year (one every 151 minutes) and only 1 last year for Arsenal (one every 377 minutes). The Ox is scoring more goals at the highest level for Liverpool than he did at Arsenal. A quarter of his Premier League goals and a third of his Champions League goals have been scored for Liverpool. He hasn't even been there for one season yet!

In Possession

Now here, I am hopefully going to dispel a partial myth. It was widely accepted that the Ox was bad on the ball for Arsenal. For me though, the Ox was one of Arsenals best ball players last season, after the debateably world class Mesut Özil, of course.

At Liverpool, nobody seems to be questioning his passing, creativity or ball retentention. Yet he hasn't improved much, if at all in this department under Klopp. Not for me anyway. He has always been aggressive in his passing and taken risks, but he has also always had a brilliant shape to his crosses, and been fantastic at the quick pass and move game.

In his last season at Arsenal the Ox had an 82% pass completion rate and averaged 36 successful passes per 90 minutes. At Liverpool, the Ox has an identical 82% completion rate, completing an average of 35 passes per 90 minutes. Neck and neck.

Creatively, there is also not a great deal of difference. At Liverpool, the Ox has played 23 key passes, and been credited with 5 assists; 28 total. That works out at every 49 minutes. At Arsenal last season, the Ox played 24 key passes, and was credited with 7 assists; 31 total. That works out at every 50 minutes.

So whilst many refused to give the Ox the credit he deserved for his ability on the ball, it is funny how the success of your team can change public opinion on you as an individual. He has always been a very good passer, and excels particularly in through balls or crosses from wide areas. Whatever way you dress it up, he makes things happen in the final third in any shirt.

Intelligence

Now we come back to where Klopp has improved the Ox's game. At Arsenal, the constant chopping and changing of his position made it very hard for the Ox to know where he should be or what his job was. This did lead to him becoming a bit of a headless chicken in the centre of the park when he got a rare chance there.

I must admit, I thought that this lack of direction would hold him back from ever truly becoming a first choice midfielder at Liverpool. Though I appreciated what he could do to change a game, I doubted his ability to maintain control in bigger matches. So I'll have a small slice of that pie if there is any left once you Arsenal fans have finished with it.

The Ox now reads the game much better after just a small time working with Klopp. He spots danger earlier, and doesn't over commit as much which often put him the wrong side of play. He holds a better position and pounces At the right times. It is the most crucial improvement he could've made.

At Arsenal, the Ox managed just 14 interceptions in his final season. Or one every 112 minutes. At Liverpool though, the Ox has made 20 interceptions already, at one every 68 minutes. Interceptions are considered a better form of regaining possession because there is less injury risk, but also a greater chance to retain possession.

This is probably a big reason why the Ox is not making as many tackles at Liverpool. He is regaining possession far more intelligently, by positioning himself better. The credit here has to be with Klopp for his coaching, but also with the Ox himself for having the ability to learn.

As well as a positional improvement, the Ox is also concentrating more and making less errors. Watching Ox live, you can see that he is tracking back better, following runners more often than he was, and just generally staying focused. It is a huge improvement on the aimless workhorse we saw at Arsenal.

Conclusion

Klopp has only really improved the Ox noticeably in two areas. You don't really need my explanations or statistics to back them up either. The Ox is scoring more important goals, and he is more intelligent on the pitch. It wouldn't have been a very compelling argument if I'd left it at that though!

Because of these two things, he is influencing games more. That is what really matters for a modern midfielder. The two main criticisms will always be "they don't make an impact" or "they don't score enough goals". You have to be visibly having an effect on the game to be highly rated. In some cases that is not fair, but that is another debate!

You also have to give credit to Liverpool fans. The Ox came with a false reputation as an injury prone player who could just run fast in a straight line. Whilst this was never the whole truth, even Liverpool fans who pleaded against signing him have showed their class.

They took a step back when he signed and said "go on then Ox, prove us wrong". After he duly obliged, those same detractors have had the class to come forward and admit they were too quick to judge. Hats off to you if you were one of those people.

Klopp has undoubtedly brought the Ox on a level or two as a player. The short time in which he has done it is a pretty damning indication that Wenger is not the coach he once was. Playing in a position and style that suits him better helps, but the Ox has more than helped himself too by earning the appreciation of the Liverpool fans with hard work and class.

Written By Adam Jones

Written by Adam Jones April 13 2018 16:40:38