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Oxlade-Chamberlain: Next Arsenal legend?

There are 16 minutes left at the Emirates and a cascade of boos rings around the crowd as the fourth official’s board shows a red number 15 and a green number 23.

Russia captain Andrey Arshavin, whose Arsenal career may very well be coming to an end sooner rather than later, paces his way onto the field much to the disappointment of the Gooner faithful (or rather unfaithful such is the belief in the club’s record buy).

Coming off to a rapture of applause is 18-year old, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who in 74 minutes against Manchester United has already impressed the supporters more this season than his replacement and looks to have a long, bright future ahead of him.

It’s been quite a journey already for Chamberlain who a year ago was at the hub of much speculation surrounding his future, with both Manchester clubs and his current employers all sniffing around for the Southampton winger.

Nothing was able to materialise as far a transfer was concerned and ‘The Ox’ saw out the rest of the campaign helping Saints clinch promotion to the Championship.

His departure in the summer from St Marys was inevitable and it was Arsene Wenger who won the race for the Englishman’s services as £12 million later, Chamberlain was an Arsenal player.

His career as a Gunner didn’t start well as he was thrown in at the deep-end during Arsenal’s 8-2 whipping at the hands of Manchester United, but he managed to score in his next two games including a strike against Olympiakos in his first-ever Champions League appearance.

For the remainder of 2011, Chamberlain was a bit-part player and was limited to cup games and cameos from the bench.

However since the turn of the year, the former-Saint’s player has managed to feature in three Arsenal matches and was the only bright spark as the Gunners were brushed aside by the champions last week.

Arsenal were poor, United were in control and the only way the home side looked as if they would get back in the game was if the 18-year old grabbed his side by the scruff of the neck and forced the encounter back into a contest.

Like a bullet down the flanks, Chamberlain proved that he was no lightweight in, without a doubt the, biggest game of the young man’s career to date. Chamberlain showed no sign of nerves, was confident enough to take on Sir Alex Ferguson’s men and produced a superb assist for Robin Van Persie to draw the Londoners level.

The fact that Arsenal’s most successful-ever manager was heckled with abuse from the stands for taking off Chamberlain is enough in itself to show just how much of an impact the youngster has made. And with Euro 2012 just round the corner, could Chamberlain force his way onto the plane?

His fate lies mainly with Arsene Wenger.

Wenger made it clear that his summer signing would feature a lot more in 2012 and has already reaped the benefits of having Chamberlain at his disposal.

The last time I remember a rapid winger bursting onto the scene in the same way as Chamberlain was a man, or rather boy, just down the road in the form of Aaron Lennon.

Lennon, who was the same age that Chamberlain finds himself now, tore apart Premier League defences as he racked up 29 Tottenham games before flying out to the World Cup in 2006.

Lennon managed to get a lot of game time, a commodity that’s been in short supply for the Arsenal kid and ultimately lies in the hand of his boss.

So if Wenger provides the game time, Chamberlain could provide enough talent to kick-start Arsenal’s season and give Fabio Capello something to think about.

Fast, direct, skillful and strong both mentally and physically, Chamberlain has displayed some of his qualities in abundances so far and has the makings to be a truly great player for club and country, and he has the next four months to book his ticket for Poland and Ukraine.

Matt Cotton

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