Date: 30th December 2011 at 11:46am
Written by:

It`s difficult to be a hot young property in English football. England is still very much an island and as such, we regard ourselves as different, separate somehow from the rest of the world. This translates into the every day paranoia of the scandal sheets and it also dictates that, in the sports press, we treat our sportsmen very differently. The narrative is so predictable and cynically linear as to be sickening.

Young sportsman arrives, shows promising first glimpses as a teenager, is hyped beyond all recognition as the saviour of all British sport, expectations are heaped in creamy, steaming piles until reputation outweighs the development of the individual`s ability. Then, when the young charge suffers slightly with inconsistency- as any young sportsman does, no matter how talented- he is billed as a failure, a flop. Too full of his own importance, found out. The worm turns, stories of arrogance circulate. This usually before the individual has even turned 21. From Amir Khan to Theo Walcott; it`s a story that has been repeated ad nauseam.

What`s equally as disturbing as the “build them up to knock them down” mentality of the press, is people`s baffling stupidity. No matter how many times the circle completes and the story ends; people are more than happy to buy into it all over again. It`s a bit like watching someone repeatedly dunk their knackers into the toaster, hoping for a different outcome after the 47th set of first degree burns. Sometimes I watch this behaviour and find myself aghast that more people don`t just spend all day walking into walls.

I suppose this brings me neatly onto Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. In recent weeks the clamour for his greater inclusion has grown from a distant murmur to a bubbling rumble. In fairness, I`ll try not to be too pithy about that. He has certainly shown exciting glimpses in his performances thus far. A quick, strong player that likes to commit defenders, he looks like he`ll be a valuable asset to Arsenal. Throw in the fact that some of our forwards, beyond the clear first choice three, are struggling for form, it does stand to reason.

The trouble is, we`re in the honeymoon season where Chamberlain is concerned. All young English players get this. Theo Walcott had it in 2006, until a lack of patience appeared around his development. Jack Wilshere had it last season. In the cocoon of this honeymoon period, supporters` eyes tend to be clouded by mist and the understandable shortcomings of young English players are glossed over. The same broadly happens with new signings too; but young British talent sets our sentiment levels off the charts. How else do you explain the fact that, the most rapturous reception I ever heard an Arsenal player receive at Highbury was Academy graduate Graham Barrett- who arrived as a late substitute in 1999 when the Gunners were in the midst of a striker crisis.

Chamberlain has goals against Shrewsbury and a very well taken finish against Olympiacos to his name. Some of his displays have been swashbuckling. However, some have been underwhelming too. Bolton in the Carling Cup for instance, saw him easily shepherded out of the game by Ricardo Gardner. In Athens, The Ox`s display was hit and miss. He drifted in and out of the game. Not a huge criticism given the dearth of service he will have received, but part of playing an attacking wide position, is having the canniness to make yourself available for the ball. Chamberlain is very exciting with a ball at his feet, but the rest of his game still needs rounding off.

Whilst he scored a very impressive goal at home to Olympiacos, he was culpable for our concession. Switching off far too easily for a short corner and not picking up the spare man designated to him. This may sound very harsh, but the game at the top level is seldom forgiving. Chamberlain`s shortcomings are totally and utterly understandable. He only turned 18 in August. To put that into context, he was a foetus when Andy Linighan powered home a last minute header in the 1993 F.A. Cup Final. (Now I`ve made you feel old). What`s clear is that he has the raw materials and the ability to be a serious player for Arsenal`s future. His current shortcomings are all very workable on the training ground.

But this is where our patience as supporters comes in. We need to rationally recognise that he`s not there yet. We need to draw away the veil of swooning and adoration and analyse why the manager might not yet be throwing him into the Premier League willy nilly. If we do that, we`re also less likely to be disappointed when he can`t live up to exaggerated expectations more akin to a mother`s love than a football fan`s. The case of Walcott is instructive, as it is with Wilshere. At the beginning of the 2008-09 season, after an encouraging pre season friendly against Real Madrid, Jack began the season in the first team picture. However, by the end of the campaign, his form dipped to the point that he played in both legs of the Youth Cup Final come May. This is par the course with teenage footballers, they experience inconsistency.

The irony is that the more we hype Chamberlain up, the more protection he`ll require. Because there will be less patience once those wobbly periods crystallize. I heard many ask the question as to why he wasn`t thrown into the picture as we toiled against Wolves. It was quite simply a tactical decision. The Ox`s strength is running at defenders and beating full backs. This is a less valuable skill when you`re up against 10 defenders. Though the Russian is clearly in bad form, Arshavin`s guile was a much more viable option. It showed too, he played 4 key passes and had 1 shot fly inches wide in his 25 minute cameo.

I can well imagine that many, still blinded by exaltation, will construe this article as a slight on Chamberlain. It`s not at all. Just an understanding of where he is currently. I can well imagine that this time next year I`ll be writing an article defending him from a shower of criticism based on that understanding! With Gervinho absent for much of January and February and an F.A. Cup campaign about to begin, chances await him on the horizon. Many questions have been asked about Arsene Wenger`s management over the last year. But if there is one area where he is still completely and utterly beyond reproach, it`s his ability to develop talented young players. Trust him with Chamberlain. As long as the player himself trusts Wenger too and as long as we are patient, his time will come. LD.

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