Wednesday 15 March 2017 11:44, UK
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wants to leave Arsenal at the end of the season, according to newspaper reports. He has not yet fulfilled his potential at the Emirates Stadium, but would the Gunners regret letting him go?
In December 2012, Arsenal sat fifth in the Premier League, level on points with West Brom and closer to the relegation zone than the top of the table.
It was a frustrating period for the club, and the downbeat mood was compounded by the sight of their former captain Robin van Persie firing Manchester United towards the title.
Van Persie had departed for Old Trafford that summer citing a lack of ambition at the Emirates Stadium. But while the first half of the new season appeared to have vindicated the Dutchman's decision, Arsenal were about to make an announcement Arsene Wenger hoped would signal a brighter future.
With Wenger smiling proudly over their shoulders, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson were pictured signing long-term contracts. Theo Walcott committed a few weeks later. Together, the youthful group made up a British core that would provide the foundations for a new era and new direction at the club.
At least that was the idea. Four years on, Arsenal find themselves in the same position in the Premier League table, and the British core has never come to fruition. For a variety of reasons, none of the young Brits have kicked on quite how was expected. None of them have even managed 30 Premier League starts in a single season since the contracts were signed.
Wenger described Wilshere as the leader of the group at the time, but the sense of unfulfilled potential is arguably more acute in Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Southampton academy product was the youngest of the six at 19 years old. A few months earlier, Wenger had said his development was "ahead of schedule" after he starred for England at Euro 2012.
With the pace and power to terrorise full-backs on the flanks and the technical attributes to play in central midfield, Oxlade-Chamberlain was a thrilling prospect with huge potential. And midway through his second season at Arsenal, he already seemed to be well on his way to making the most of it.
Since then, however, he has not succeeded in making the jump from promising squad player to important starter. There have been flashes of brilliance from season to season, but the more consistent themes have been injuries and inconsistency. Indeed, the sight of him coming off with a hamstring problem against Lincoln was a grimly familiar one.
But while it could be tempting for Arsenal to cash in on Oxlade-Chamberlain as he approaches the final year of his contract, the identities of his reported suitors should act as a warning. Rather than facing a step down to a club outside the top six, the 23-year-old has been repeatedly linked with Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United. It seems he still has plenty of believers.
Arsenal are yet to open contract talks with him, suggesting uncertainty on their part, but Wenger insists he is still behind him. "I personally wish that he stays at the club because I think he's a very promising player who developed very well," he said last week. "He looks to have the values that we rate at this club."
There have certainly been encouraging signs this season. Arsenal's Champions League meeting with Bayern Munich may have ended in disaster, but Oxlade-Chamberlain's all-action display in central midfield was a positive. He took the game to Bayern from the start, touching the ball more than any of his team-mates and completing nearly twice as many dribbles as any other player on the pitch.
Wenger has long maintained that he sees Oxlade-Chamberlain's future in the middle of the park, but opportunities have been rare. Indeed, the England international could reasonably argue that he simply hasn't been given enough chances by the manager who claims to rate him so highly.
It's strange when you consider some of his other performances there over the years. His starring display against AC Milan in 2012 remains one of his best for the club. He also scored twice from midfield in a 2-0 win over Crystal Place in 2014, there was an eye-catching performance away to Stoke last year, and earlier this season he shone centrally in a 5-0 win over Southampton in the FA Cup.
Oxlade-Chamberlain tends to impress whenever an opportunity arises in the middle, and there has been evidence of all-round progress this season too. With six goals and six assists in 35 games, this is already his most productive campaign for Arsenal. If his hamstring injury is as minor as predicted, he will comfortably eclipse his record for appearances in a single season (37).
The British core may not have developed as Wenger hoped, but there are plenty of reasons to believe Oxlade-Chamberlain's best is yet to come. It has been a frustrating wait for Arsenal, but watching him flourish for one of their rivals would be another bitter pill to swallow. Persuading him to stay at the Emirates should be a priority.