Friday 20 July 2018

Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has put 'stupid' comments behind him as he fulfils his promise

Oxlade-Chamberlain: Impressive. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Impressive. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Simon Hughes

There are signs Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is developing into the player Arsenal hoped he would become when they beat Liverpool to his signing just before his 17th birthday - but it is in a Liverpool shirt rather than an Arsenal one where the notice is being taken.

In 2010 Oxlade-Chamberlain chose Arsenal over the Anfield outfit, with a promise from Arsene Wenger that he would shave around the rough edges and help complete his game - and, most of all, win trophies.

Seven years raced by. There were some eye-catching moments in that time, but not enough. Against AC Milan in the Champions League in 2012, Wenger described Oxlade-Chamberlain's performance from the centre of midfield as "top class". Yet Arsenal would lose the tie gloriously - a game that encapsulated an era.

Following a 4-0 hammering in Italy in the first leg they would nearly turn it around in the second, winning 3-0. Oxlade-Chamberlain, brought in from the cold, was instrumental, setting up two of the goals.

Wenger never really trusted him to play in the centre, though. It had been Oxlade-Chamberlain's position since childhood. Because he was fast, it was interpreted that he would be better on the wing - or even as wing-back.

At 24 he chose to move away, to establish himself elsewhere rather than acting as the help.

In September, a week after he'd joined Liverpool, Thierry Henry - a former coach at Arsenal - questioned the player's ability. "I still don't know what he's good at," Henry remarked.

Gary Neville was similarly critical - another former coach with England - and suggested he was not good enough to get in Liverpool's best XI.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was reminded of this after his surging man-of-the-match display in Liverpool's 2-0 victory over Newcastle on Saturday.

"I was very aware of those comments, yes," he responded. "It is not nice to hear it from your peers or people you have worked with.

"I have worked with them both in different capacities. Fair enough if that is what they think, I am not really too bothered.

"The important thing is that when I came here I had a manager who had faith in me and I had faith in myself. That is why I made the step. That is the most important thing."

He was asked whether he has since made contact with either Henry or Neville.

"No, I don't need to. If people want to say those things, you remember them, you don't forget them, but I am not here to make enemies. If that is what they think, fair enough."

Perhaps it is a reflection of Henry and Neville's abilities as coaches rather than the player's standing that they are not able to spot strengths that lay hidden. Under Jurgen Klopp, Oxlade-Chamberlain is becoming an important figure in midfield and has so far risen to the challenge of filling the void left by Philippe Coutinho - to the point where nobody at the moment is talking about how much Liverpool are missing the Brazilian.

Oxlade-Chamberlain would go further when pushed again about Henry's observations particularly.

"Those comments are probably a bit stupid," he reacted. "When you have watched someone long enough you know what they can do. I think it was more aimed at the end product side of things and doing those things that lead to scoring a goal or setting up a goal. Fair enough, I will take those comments on the chin.

"Saying 'you don't know what I do' when you have worked with me, I think it is a bit stupid. If they are referencing more end product then that is fair enough, I hold my hands up. That is something that I have been working on and still need to work on.

"But like we spoke about, it is about end product, scoring goals, setting up goals as an attacking player and that is what I have to keep doing."

This was Oxlade-Chamberlain recognising some distance is to be travelled before he meets his own expectations, never mind those of others. It is the opinion of Klopp, of course, that matters most now. There he was in the next room shattering any suggestion that Liverpool are doing well and that is enough for him.

It was put to Klopp that his team have become better at breaking down opponents like Newcastle that sit back. His instinct to argue otherwise shows he really means it when he says none of his players should feel settled just because they are playing very well.

That includes Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was involuntarily singled out in his answer. Liverpool have won nothing yet.

"We looked patient, but inside it's not exactly what you feel," Klopp admitted. "It's not about passing the ball, it's about moving the formation. Then they make mistakes.

"Ox in the first half should have been in the No 10 more often. You have two sixes, two wide and high full-backs. Where can you pass the ball? You need the players in behind.

"We weren't high enough because they were really compact. We had three midfielders really deep. The only real target was Roberto (Firmino), against two and a covering midfielder, so we lost a few balls we don't usually. That doesn't help. You can do better in these situations." (© Independent News Service)

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