By Arsenal’s traditionally conservative standards, it’s already been a busy winter transfer window and there could be more to come. The straight swap between Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan rather overshadowed the departure of the long-serving Theo Walcott, while all deals could be eclipsed by the potential arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund.
When Gunners fans look back on the 2017/18 campaign, it will be hard to argue over the usual lack of transfer activity but perhaps one single departure has affected the squad more than most.
The race for Champions League football looks to be tougher than ever this season, with six teams in form and battling for just four qualifying slots. Arsenal, in sixth place at the end of January, are a distant 9/2 in Paddy Power’s Premier League betting markets to finish inside that top four, although it’s hoped that January dealing will enhance those chances.
If the Gunners do fail in their quest, Arsenal fans will question a missing ingredient and the key player in question could be plying his trade over at Anfield.
There is a saying in football that you should never sell to your direct rivals but Arsenal were perfectly happy to let Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain leave for Liverpool at the end of the summer transfer window. When the midfielder departed, his performances for the Reds attracted mocking comments on social media as his new side were dumped out of the Carabao Cup by Leicester – a result that was followed by a 5-0 mauling at the hands of Champions elect Manchester City.
Four months on and, with Liverpool occupying that crucial Champions League slot, nobody is laughing now. Jurgen Klopp’s side handed out their own 5-0 thrashing against Swansea City and, after scoring in that game, many fans were hailing Oxlade-Chamberlain as ‘future captain material’.
The Ox made his professional debut for Southampton back in 2010 and it’s easy to forget that he is still only 24. At a club that needs him and believes in his qualities, there is still time for him to become a true leader on the pitch and the captaincy suggestion certainly isn’t wide of the mark.
Could Arsenal have benefitted from that drive when they capitulated to Bournemouth earlier in January? A distinct lack of leaders in that game was one of the focal points for criticism from Gunners fans with a number of players seemingly absent when the Cherries started to battle back.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is never going to be prolific in front of goal but he chips in and, after his first 20 appearances in a Liverpool shirt, the midfielder has made three useful scoring contributions. Elsewhere, stats are far more encouraging and, during those 20 games, the Ox has a pass accuracy rate of 83% and has created 19 chances for teammates.
While Theo Walcott’s time in an Arsenal shirt was definitely up, it was somehow felt that, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, there was always more to come. At around £40m, the funds were welcome but, in a winter of busy transfer activity, will Arsenal fans look back and regret the absence of the Ox?