On Sunday Arsenal clinched the Community Shield with an impressive 1-0 victory over last season’s champions Chelsea. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided the winning goal with a sumptuous effort beyond Thibaut Courtois into the top left corner of the net. It is flashes of quality like this from the 21 year old that have Arsenal fans pleading he has a clean bill of health in 2015/16, as well as a higher level of consistency when he does get on the pitch.
Jack Wilshere also finds himself in a similar position as the start of a new season draws closer. Although Wilshere was not a part of the Arsenal squad yesterday due to a small injury, he has enjoyed a fruitful pre-season and should be available for the opening game of the season against West Ham United.
Like Chamberlain, Wilshere had an injury hit 2014/15 season, and both missed large chunks of the season and when they were fit, the pair failed to nail down a regular spot in the starting eleven. It is clear that the English duo are special young talents with boundless potential, but are yet to find the consistency that will take them into the Arsenal first team and the elite band of modern footballers.
Coming of Age
This lack of consistency is not unusual, as it is easy to forget that Chamberlain is only 21, and Wilshere 23, but there is a feeling that both must start to take the final steps in maturing, as Wenger builds an increasingly competitive squad of genuine quality. For Chamberlain, reproducing moments like the winner in the Community Shield week in, week out will be the key to unlocking his potential. Likewise, Wilshere will look to replicate efforts like his sublime volley against West Brom on the final day of last season more often throughout 2015/16.
If Aaron Ramsey’s meteoric step up in the 2013/14 season is anything to go by, then Arsenal fans will have good reason to believe that the upcoming season will bring the best out of Chamberlain and Wilshere. Ramsey went into 2013/14 on the back of a couple of erratic seasons after a long-term injury suffered against Stoke in 2010. He finished the year with 16 goals and legendary status after ending Arsenal’s 9 year trophy drought with the winning goal in the FA Cup final against Hull City.
Ramsey’s age at the time bodes well for Chamberlain and Wilshere, as he was 22 at the beginning of the season in which he found the consistency that often eludes younger players. Chamberlain turns 22 on the 15th of August and Wilshere turns 24 on New Year’s Day in 2016, so both are reaching crucial points in their careers. It is not quite make or break yet, but Wilshere in particular is at an age where playing regularly is essential for him to make the step up to another level.
Fierce Competition for Places
The challenge for both is to muscle their way into Wenger’s starting 11, which will be no mean feat, as competition is fierce throughout Arsenal’s midfield and attack. In the long-term Chamberlain has been earmarked for a central midfield role, however for the near future he is best placed to make an impact from the wide positions.
He started the community shield on the right hand side of Arsenal’s front three and was also utilised to similar effect against Lyon in the Emirates Cup the previous weekend, scoring in the 6-0 win. However, he faces competition from Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and even the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, who were played on the right towards the end of last season.
Likewise, Wilshere will have to compete with the likes of Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and even the aging Tomas Rosicky for a starting berth in Arsenal’s engine room. Towards the end of last season, Arsenal landed on a winning formula with a deep lying partnership between Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, with Mesut Ozil playing at the tip of the midfield diamond. Wilshere will have to play exceptionally well to force his way into the current set up, or be content with being played out of position, potentially on the right of the front three.
However, as the season wears on, if Wilshere can stay fit, opportunities will arise as injuries, suspensions and dips in form inevitably take their toll. Even so, the 24 year old has the ability to play his way into the starting 11, but will most likely have to convince Wenger to change the 4-2-1-3 formation that served him so well in the second half of last season. His cause would undoubtedly be helped if he cut out some of his questionable behaviour off the pitch.
Explosive skill sets
Wilshere’s strengths lie in his ability to take the play forward with penetrative dribbles that take him beyond the lines of the opposition. He also has a good eye for a pass and has the potential to be a complete midfielder if he improves his defensive skills and his goal tally. Chamberlain’s game is all about pace, power and directness as he often takes on defenders and beats them with ease.
However, in recent seasons the pair have been guilty of inconsistent performances, showing brilliance one week, and mediocrity the next. Also, Chamberlain and Wilshere should really score more goals then their stats suggest, as Chamberlain has found the net only eight times in the last three campaigns. Wilshere has a slightly better record with nine strikes since the 2012/13 season, many of which being goals of the highest quality. However if he sacrifices a bit of quality for quantity he will register a much higher scoring return.
Chamberlain admitted after the Community Shield win the need for him to contribute more goals, saying; ‘I'm not afraid to say that I need to score more goals. I've set myself that target this year on a personal level so every time I'm on the pitch it's important that I try and contribute in some way and a goal or an assist is what I need to do.’ If he and Wilshere can score between 10 and 15 goals each that would surely contribute a turning point in both players’ Arsenal careers, similar to that of Aaron Ramsey two years ago.
The year of Oxlade – Wilshere?
Therefore, the 2015/16 season is a massive year for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere. Arsenal fans will hope that the duo can steer clear of injuries which, if the signs are to be believed, will coincide with a new found consistency of performance. The parallels are clear between the pair and Aaron Ramsey at the beginning of the 2013/14 season, and if Chamberlain and Wilshere’s pre-season performances are anything to go by, they and Arsenal are in for an exciting season.