Sunday 25 February 2018

Welbeck on song in dress rehearsal

Henry Winter at Wembley

Roy Hodgson indicated this was "not an audition" but clearly England's 1-0 victory over Belgium yesterday was exactly that. England's manager knows most of his starting line-up to face France in Donetsk on June 11 but the left-wing and centre-forward slots remain open. Wembley staged opportunity knocks for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck.

If the nimble goalscorer Welbeck has placed pressure on Andy Carroll upfront, Oxlade-Chamberlain impressed intermittently on the left without making an unarguable case for inclusion. There were bursts of that noted pace, reminders of his nervelessness but Oxlade-Chamberlain may be better used through the middle eventually.

Making his first England start yesterday, Oxlade-Chamberlain's season had already contained some high points. He remains a jewel requiring more polishing but what marks Oxlade-Chamberlain out as a real future force, along with his physical and technical gifts, is his hunger to learn.

He needed to work hard here. Belgium were a significant threat. His first start saw him work so hard for the team. England were deep, forced back by the persistence of the likes of Marouane Fellaini in Belgium's midfield so Oxlade-Chamberlain's willingness to put in a shift defensively was much needed.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was also swiftly demonstrating his attacking gifts. He was moving into promising central pastures, not restricting his duties to the left. From a James Milner cutback, the Arsenal youngster was presented with the most inviting of opportunities. Having timed his run intelligently, Oxlade-Chamberlain's left foot slipped on the grass freshly drenched by the sprinklers before kick-off.

However frustrating, this was all part of Oxlade-Chamberlain's education. He is only 18, only an international ingenue but his appetite for self-improvement is well-known at Arsenal, his formative club Southampton (whose excellent work needs noting) and England. The owner of 11 GCSEs, Oxlade-Chamberlain is also a student of the game, learning from Henry, noting the way Robin van Persie returns to the dressing-room pleased with a victory but annoyed on the rare occasion he has not scored.

Oxlade-Chamberlain listened to his captain, absorbing the Dutchman's advice of "keep being patient, keep working hard, keep learning off all the boys and your time will come. When it does make sure you grab it with two hands".


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