The Jack’s New Clothes

I’m willing to admit that maybe I got my estimation of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s abilities a bit.. wrong. There is a video circulating of a Liverpool supporter mocking Ox’s match against Leicester last night and another which shows all his good touches. To say he had an off night is a bit of an understatement.

Playing on a Liverpool side which made 85% of their passes, Ox completed 80%, the second worst of any outfield player. He only misplaced 10 passes, was only dispossessed 4 times (plus one turnover), took two shots that were just wasted, and failed 2 of his 5 attempted dribbles. He also created zero chances for his teammates and frankly looked like a player well out of sorts. Basically, he looked like the player we saw when Arsenal played Liverpool – except playing FOR Liverpool now he tried to win the ball back which he certainly didn’t do for Arsenal.

I don’t know what happened to Ox. When I saw him play against AC Milan in 2012 he was magnificent. I’ve rarely seen a player that impressive in person. I was converted to the church of the Ox. He was going to have a break out season… any minute now. But it never happened and now that he’s playing for another team I’m feeling a lot less charitable over his mistakes.

The same thing happened to Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere before Ox. I was just a new blogger when Arsenal played Chelsea in the League cup final. That was the match when Theo Walcott opened his Arsenal account, scoring a calm goal from the left channel off a Diaby through ball. Walcott opened his body the way Thierry Henry had done so many times for Arsenal. He was going to be the English Henry. Now he’s just a speedy utility player with a decent cross, good finish, and poor close control. I still think he could score 20 goals a season on a team like Sunderland. I mean, he’s better than Jermaine Defoe.

But the great grand-daddy of wasted talent at Arsenal has to be Jack Wilshere. And it’s a topic we have been over ad nauseum. Sorry/not sorry that I think Jack Wilshere is the most overrated footballer in England. He had one good game against Barcelona in 2011 after which the headlines screamed “Jack Wilshere is the player we have all been waiting for.”

But he wasn’t. His control got worse – instead of losing the ball in tight spaces, he would now routinely lose the ball in open spaces and then lunge to win the ball back, inviting the tackle. He also failed to develop his right leg. And for a player who Wenger touts as having a magnificent footballing brain he failed to fit in at Bournemouth last season.

This Bournemouth failure is important because I think it speaks to Wilshere’s problems as a footballer. Bournemouth are not a talented team. So Eddie Howe makes up for that with well drilled organization. At the critical moment last season, after Bournemouth drew 3-3 to Arsenal, his team took a horrendous dip in form, losing 6 and drawing 1 of their next 7 matches, he dropped Jack. He spared Wilshere’s blushes by saying it was fitness related but he had taken Wilshere off at half time against Man City after Jack had had the worst game of his career.

Howe installed a player who worked better in the system and the team responded with a narrow 2-1 loss to West Brom, a 1-1 draw with Man U, and then two wins. Wilshere came back into the starting lineup but the results faded away again, the draw against Liverpool, the 3-1 loss to Chelsea, and then a horrible match against Tottenham where Jack was injured and wouldn’t play for AFC Bournemouth again that season. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Bournemouth went unbeaten in their last five matches – winning 3 and barely staying up in the Premier League.

I don’t hate Jack Wilshere. I hope he has a fantastic match today and a tremendous season for Arsenal. I actually feel sad for Jack that Wenger failed to develop this young man. Jack never developed his right leg, never honed his close control, never learned how to play defense, and never developed his footballing mind. We can blame his injuries and they surely took a toll but Wilshere was an academy player and was singled out by everyone as the most natural talent Arsenal’s academy had seen. This was a failure of this player’s career at every level: his own personal demons, Wenger’s inability to develop players, Wenger’s lack of tactical discipline with his players, injuries, all failed him.

Insanely, he’s only 25 (he’ll be 26 in January) and he probably has one more contract in him. I don’t think it will be with Arsenal.

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Ox’s performance against Leicester:

41 comments

  1. i honestly want to point fingers at wenger, i mean when was the last time we had a player come through from our youth setup and look like a complete footballer? something always look missing whether its poor touch, close control, football inteligence etc.. i think an overhaul of our youth setup is neccesary, we always have players who are amazingly talented at young age but when its time to take the big step up they are found wanting.

    1. It’s a more general issue than you think. English football academies have improved in the technical training of youngsters, but they are still behind Spanish, French and even German academies for the reading of the game.

    2. Deroh
      The Arsenal Academy may get the overhaul you’re hoping for next season under Per Mertesacker’s management.

    1. @Critic, if you’re responding to DEROH, then sure I agree with you. If you’re criticizing 7AM, surely you read the part where he assigns blame to both player and manager? I recognize that Wenger is singled out for his failure to develop Wilshere, but Wilshere is also held responsible for his own personal demons. Surely you don’t believe the manager has no part in Jack’s failure to develop?

    2. The 18 year old Wilshere played some 3900 minutes across all competitions in a highly combative midfield, and some 500 minutes more than the 18 year old Rooney in a striker ( predominantly ) position.

      I’m not aware of any 18 year old in any top European league with this sort of game time exposure in the modern game.

  2. 2 quick thoughts:
    Your suggestion that “the results faded away again” after Bournemouth restored Jack to their lineup, clearly implying the two were linked, is a bit rich, given that the three games you cited as evidence of a dip in form were against Liverpool, Chelsea, and Spurs, hardly games Bournemouth would have expected to get anything from.

    I completely agree that Wilshere’s game didn’t develop, but he was also out for huge amounts of time–far more than either Theo or the Ox (both of whom have hardly been injury free) and more on par with Diaby. The only weakness of his game I really blame him for is the complete inability/unwillingness to use his right foot, which I think does significantly hold him back at times (Tim Stillman was good on this point in a recent article)–but then again, Maradona was ridiculously one-footed too! However, the suggestion that Jack “had one good game in 2011” is completely unfair. He played a ton of matches that season–being overplayed arguably led to his initial injury troubles–and he was routinely magnificent, particularly if you take into account his tender years.

    1. As for the Ox, time will tell. Frustratingly inconsistent, admittedly, but I still expect him to start to fulfill his potential under Klopp, provided he eventually gets plenty of game time. It’s still very early days.

      Mostly I want him to fail, as he’s no longer an Arsenal player and I can’t stand Liverpool (Klopp makes them only slightly more likable), and I’m annoyed that he (or his scummy agent) chose them over us (though if I’m honest I can understand the decision). But part of me wants him to succeed, to show up all those revisionist/blind (not including you in those categories, Tim) Arsenal supporters who were calling him rubbish (or words to that effect) for the last 6 months and those suggesting a) Ox should be behind Bellerin at wing-back, even though his form was better when we switched to 3-4-3, and b) it was somehow Ox’s fault that Bellerin was being played out of position and playing so poorly (I’m looking at you, gunnerblog).

      1. 3 years from now, Arsenal will be lauded for pulling in 35m on his expiring contract! We may never see the 5m add-ons!

          1. And finally, as for Theo:
            I honestly think he just wasn’t that talented to begin with. Being a) really, really fast, and b) able to score goals, covers over a multitude of footballing sins, especially in England. But the guy frankly just isn’t that coordinated. His lack of ability may not have been such a barrier in an earlier era where everyone played 4-4-2 and English football in general was more direct and less technical (thinking of a certain Michael Owen), so he was also a victim of the shifting cultural and tactical landscape, but in the end of the day, truly good players from the past would have adapted (20 year old Michael Owen would still be one of the best forwards in England today, for example).

    2. You’re right about Jack’s reliance on his left foot, but ‘that’ goal against Norwich City was finished beautifully with his right.

    3. PFO .You’re right about Jack’s reliance on his left foot, but ‘that’ goal against Norwich City was finished beautifully with his right.

  3. Urgh. Another anti-Wenger article. We all get it, Tim. And you are not the only one who wishes for change. But unfortunately, for me, you have good provocative articles (like the one on 3-4-3 from a few days ago) but the shine, the core-essence of the article is lost when you keep ending with a Wenger-out paragraph. I for one is here for your “core essence”… the insights that are intelligent and unique ; I can get Wenger-Out stuff from everywhere else.

  4. that was an awful performance from chamberlain. he’s never played that poorly for arsenal. but it happens; all players have bad games. i honestly think he’s trying too hard to impress but maybe you were wrong. if that’s the case, i was wrong too because i thought it was a bad thing for arsenal to lose that kid. time always tells.

    as for wenger failing to develop player’s careers, i’ve said that for years. if i were a top young talent, i wouldn’t want to play for this arsenal. there would be a minimal improvement that happens simply from playing but the cat’s out of the bag. wenger allows players too much latitude to “figure things out” with too little direction. regardless of their talent and work rate, all players need direction from experienced guys to maximize their talent.

    wenger was allowed to get away with that “hands off” approach in the early days because there were plenty of old heads in the dressing room that provided mentorship and on-field direction for the younger players. those senior players played a significant role in making arsenal a great side; it wasn’t just wenger. however, when wenger dismantled the invincibles, i don’t think he took into account the senior player’s influence on the younger ones. there simply weren’t enough senior guys to mentor the young guys so arsenal had a bunch of talented youngsters that didn’t know how to win championships.

    1. This argument seems to most convincing to me. And as for some on here challenging the statement “Wenger’s inability to develop players,” it’s not so much that Wenger is an abject failure, but more that he’s been lauded for his ability to develop players in the past, both in the media and from players themselves, and as time goes on, this seems to be less and less something we should credit him for. As for his ability vis a vis Mourinho, that actually cuts the other way. Has Mourinho wasted talented players? Sure, but he also gets the players he needs for his system. AW and Arsenal’s current system, as Redcore alluded to, is a sort of half-in half out approach to player development that doesn’t commit enough to filling squad holes with costly yet talented players, nor to developing young talent in a sustainable way.

  5. “Wenger’s inability to develop players.”
    That statement is unfair and inaccurate. Toure, Adebayor, Song and Clichy were average at best when they joined Arsenal and became very good players under Wenger. Of course, there are also examples of players who didn’t develop, but you won’t find managers with a 100% record. In fact, Wenger is better than Mourinho at developing youngsters (see how he mismanaged De Bruyne at Chelsea). Otherwise, the youth project from 2006 to 2012 wouldn’t have worked and the club wouldn’t have been able to pay so quickly for the stadium.

    1. Agree with this. I understand the AW out argument. I even saw the light and moved into the camp after last season.
      But I do not understand how Gooners who have followed Arsenal for this long can claim that AW sucks at player improvement. Song and even RVP are probably the best examples.
      But the onus on development is probably more on the student than the Teacher. I think that we struggle to develop players now because we moved from the Sevilla model to the current Arsenal model. Use stats to get great but not quite Neymar level players and try to win the trophy. Problem is the stats buys are better than the guys whom we are developing so the players dont develop as good. Plus the stats buys are not so good that they give us the trophy.
      Either way I think a good ad rational Wenger out writer should not beat the AW does not develop players drum. His record in player development is probably better than any other manager who tries to compete for a trophy.

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  7. Ox fits Klopp’s preferences for players; quick and athletic. I would trust Klopp more than Wenger to find a role for Ox and get him to conform. Will he ever be a great player? No, unlikely. Most great players are identifiable at 19 or 20, older than that and we’re talking a real outlier (Bale).

    I know I’ll get ripped for saying this, but in general British players cannot compare in terms of footballing IQ to players from Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil… it’s got to be the academy system.

    I believe I read Ruud Gullit saying once about American players that while they have as much skill as European players, the problem is that they are still working on their skill when they are teenagers whereas by the time they’re 13 European players have moved on to tactical training. I think it would be a similar criticism of British players. But it looks like based on performances in the European U21’s that perhaps the academy system has turned a corner and we may see fewer Wilsheres, Oxes and Chambers and more players that can marry skill with footballing IQ and mental fortitude.

    1. “I know I’ll get ripped for saying this, but in general British players cannot compare in terms of footballing IQ to players from Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil… it’s got to be the academy system.”

      No ripping from this direction, Tim. Absolutely spot on.

      As for Wilshere, Ox, and Chambers: the former’s footballing IQ is underrated (or: his being a bit thick in general is harshly overstated), the latter’s problem is not in the head, it’s in a complete absence of pace, and, as for the Ox, well, yes, I’ll give you that one.

    2. British players are generally over hyped in the media. They generally lack the technical ability and the tactical acumen to compete with their European and South American counter parts. So no argument from me. But hey, there is apparently a focus on futsal now so all will be even in about two decades.

  8. Wilshere has been such a disappointment for me. I really had high hopes for him and I don’t think I overvalued him simply because he was overhyped by the British press, he genuinely has the technical ability to hold his own against continental type players. What frustrates me is when people use that Barca game as an one-off game, conveniently forgetting how good he was that entire season. Wenger shouldn’t have played him in 45 games that season and I think that was the beginning of the end for him from a fitness point of view. However, I don’t think we can blame it all on Wenger. Wilshere believed in his own hype and didn’t work on his discipline – both on and off the field. Eventually his lack of discipline, coupled with his fitness issues and lack of direction from the manager caused his downfall.

    It’s weird to talk about Wenger’s ability to young players at this point. 5 years ago, this wouldn’t even be up for discussion. He has had a history of being able to develop players across a broad spectrum of abilities (from Henry to Song). He even turned Adebayor into a 30 goal season player. So it seems really unfair, and frankly daft, to say he can’t develop young talent. However his “Project: England” has been a complete failure. I am not sure if I lay all the blame at his feet though. I think he wanted to give England a national team (go back and read some of his interviews from 7-8 years ago) and he thought that English players would be less prone to agitating a move. He was wrong in both accounts (not to mention I thought he was being irresponsible somehow tying England’s future with Arsenal’s) and typically, he didn’t learn his lesson from the Ashley Cole debacle. For me, none of the English players at Arsenal players had the requisite talent to be world class players (barring Wilshere) and I think those chickens came home to roost this summer.

    Which brings me to the Ox. I always thought of Ox as a better Theo Walcott. However Theo then added goals to his game to salvage some value and Ox hasn’t even done that yet. For me the litmus test of a good dribbler is the ability to look up and read the field while having the ball at their feet. Ox always looks down when he is dribbling and that’s why no matter how many successful dribbles he has, his final ball is mostly crap. Luckily for him, he is a superior athlete than maybe 95% of the players on the pitch. If he can add the final ball to his game, he will be a very dominant player but so far I haven’t seen anything from him that makes me think he will. Can Klopp get that out of him? Only time will tell but I wouldn’t bet on it. He is going to play a part time role in Liverpool and they will have even better players next year pushing him down even further.

    1. Ox delivered a number of absolutely sumptuous crosses from the right last season–against Sunderland, Man United (twice), and Man City (in the cup)–just off the top of my head. If that’s not evidence that he already can deliver a great final ball (perhaps still inconsistently, to a degree) then I don’t know what is.

      The comparison with Theo has never made much sense to me. Or rather, it’s obvious on a superficial level (both former speedy Southampton youth products of Afro-Caribbean descent who play on the right wing), but delving deeper the two couldn’t be more different. The main charge against Ox is always that his end product is poor, whereas end product is pretty much the only positive thing Theo has ever offered on a football pitch (case in point: I’m currently watching the first half of the League Cup game, in which Theo has been awful, robbing all the space on the right wing that should be left to Nelson at RWB, and yet he’s currently got the only goal of the game).

      1. Sound analysis of Theo and Ox, the former Soton kids who moved to Arsenal and were thus touted to be the next big thing, only to sort of fizzle out into mediocre players (thus far).

        I didn’t think Walcott was that awful TBH, he could’ve had a hat trick. He is what he is at this point: a wide forward who tries to get in behind the lines. He did that well today.

  9. Ox will come good. It’s very early, and he’s in a new team.

    I don’t exactly want him to fail at Liverpool, but I’m simply of the view that he was a player we could afford to lose, and could improve on in the market. One of my fellow commenters here misinterpreted that as my saying he’s not a good player. He is. The question is, how good. And to that I think the answer is Ox is a good player, but he’ll never rise to the level of a young Wayne Rooney or even a Dele Alli, in my view.

    Now WILSHERE is a player in my view. Good brain, good technical ability. You have to offset his failure at Bournemouth with success in another loan spell — at Bolton, albeit when he was still a teen. Sometimes they just don’t work. Gnabry had a disastrous spell with Pulis, and next season was looking a world beater for Germany in a tournament. I think, like Wilshere, he plays better with better players. A big part of Wilshere’s play in the attacking third is instinctive.

    At the moment he’s behind Iwobi as Ozil understudy, and behind Elneny as first off the deep midfield taxi rank, for either Xhaka, Ramsey or asa bolster to both. I think that Elneny (who has played well of late) is displaceable. Wilshere has got to show the desire and ruthlessness to seize that spot at least, or nudge ahead of Iwobi.

    Both Elneny and Iwobi have weaknesses that he can exploit. Elneny has a good engine but lacks Jacks’s creativity. And Iwobi is goal-shy… too much so for a forward player.

    1. Jack had a good game tonight, I thought. Obviously the opposition were weak, but he looks to be back at a level at which he at least should be getting some minutes in the league off the bench.

  10. Can’t remember the exact season but Jack was well into the red zone and Wenger didn’t rest him, ran him into the ground frankly. I really believe that laid the ground work for his injury troubles. By now I think Arsene’s reputation for developing young talent has to be considered quite diminished.

    1. Managers, rightly or wrongly, are assigned responsibility for developing players, but so much goes into determining whether a player ultimately becomes a “success” or not. Not least of that is the outside expectation of that player, which informs whether the player he ultimately becomes is a “success” or not. Alex Song was considered a developmental masterstroke by Wenger because we all thought he was dog’s bollocks for the longest time. By contrast, Walcott was a victim of sky high expectations of being the English Henry, the youngest World Cup participant, etc, etc. From there he could only disappoint.

      Not only does expectation inform relative success, but the development of a player depends on so much more than just his manager. There is the innate talent, the physical tools and the mental determination; but there are also outside factors, intangibles like personality and personality interactions. You could fill a tome with wasted potential, players like David Bentley, Nic Bendtner or Woj Szcz who had it in them to be something special but due to their stupidity, stubbornness or something else, never succeeded at Arsenal. Do we lay those “failures” at Wenger’s door? On the flip side, he is often credited with developing the likes of van Persie, Adebayor, Fabregas and Kolo Toure, but who’s to say those players wouldn’t have become great under someone else’s tutelage? We will never know. I do know history judges winners favorably, and Wenger’s player development was judged rather favorably until he stopped winning trophies. Correlation or causation? I do not know.

      1. Excuse me, I second guessed myself and urban dictionary has confirmed that I just used the phrase “dog’s bollocks” in the opposite sense from its true meaning, which is something awesome or great. That’s what I get for trying to use British slang.

        1. The dog’s bollocks, the way I understand the term, is a self-assessment. Dogs love their own balls so much that they lick them. Hence the term. It is generally used to describe a person who has high self-regard, rather than as someone else’s assessment of the player. Song probably did think that he was the dog’s bollocks.

  11. Ox has plenty of time to improve at Liverpool. The real judge of him will be how he does in his second year with Klopp. As many have said, it’s far too early to pass judgment. Klopp’s system is not easy to pick up.

    As for Wilshere, I won’t say never. The talent to be something great has always been there. After all his injury woes, I don’t think he’ll ever reach “great” but “very good” is still well within reach. With that performance tonight, he reminded me of peak Stephen Ireland, Charlie Adam or Joe Cole, the relatively unathletic but magnificently skilled midfield playmaker. That’s maybe not the player we wanted Jack to be but ultimately that seems to be his destiny based on how his career has unfolded. He won’t be short of offers; he would be the best offensive player on 3-4 premier league teams, just as the above-mentioned player were in their prime. The best case scenario for him this season is to consistently put that level of performance in, which will be good for him and good for Arsenal. I have to say he did his defensive duties very well and tracked back conscientiously. Maybe that spell at Bournemouth wasn’t a total waste after all.

  12. I did watch the game tonight. The first half was a mature, composed display with cohesive pressing, decent defending and some good attacking moves that mostly came from the interplay between Wilshere and Alexis.

    In the second half, we looked disjointed as Doncaster outnumbered us in midfield and began to close down higher up the pitch, then targeted rookie center back Josh Da Silva with runs behind from their best player on the night, the #7 winger. Sensible strategy and it almost worked, too, which is kind of sad from an Arsenal point of view. Still, we had opportunities on the counter that should’ve put the game away (*Cough* Theo *Cough*). Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson were pretty awful as “wingbacks” as both struggled to build play from their wide midfield positions. They were largely bypassed by Arsenal’s buildups. Once Doncaster figured out they needed to press Wilshere and El-Neny, we stopped being able to move the ball from center and the game tipped in their favor. Let’s pray for continued good health from Bellerin and Kolasinac.

    Finally, tip of the cap to Ainsley Maitland-Niles’s recovery pace which was stunning to behold. He chased down a Doncaster forward who was in on goal and at least 10 yards ahead of him and made it look pretty easy too, then did it again following his own misplaced backpass. Just put the kid in midfield already!

  13. But we all rejected Wengers view that signing new players would inhibit the development of existing players. Similarly, we all laughed at “the like a new signing” concept. Then, here we are, criticising Wenger and player development. Surely we can’t have our cake and eat it? Surely over the years Wenger has genuinely tried to develop players. He has had great success – Fabregas, van Persie etc – and failures such as Bendtner, but the reality is that he’s done a fair bit. “Wenger out” because he can’t win the league, sure, but if I was a young player looking for a chance then “Wenger in” because once you get the chance the onus is on you to make it work. If Wenger doesn’t make the time to personally develop you, you still have access to the best training facilities and coaches in the league. Use it. In my mind Ox, Theo and Jack haven’t made it work, and that’s not on Wenger.

  14. I’ve been reading this blog for at least the past 4 years or so, every day and this has to be the worst post yet. Blaming Wenger for Jack’s inability to realise his potential, when clearly the greatest reason for that is his injury record is really harsh and unfair.

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