Ox relishes return after 'kick up the backside'

Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (right) going up against Basel defender Eder Balanta in the Champions League. He was a substitute in the 2-0 win and has yet to nail down a starting spot at Arsenal.
Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (right) going up against Basel defender Eder Balanta in the Champions League. He was a substitute in the 2-0 win and has yet to nail down a starting spot at Arsenal.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • It is not often a footballer starts an interview by telling a group of journalists he has missed them. And if the line had been delivered by anyone other than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the sarcasm detectors might never have recovered.

But given that the midfielder was left out of Sam Allardyce's one and only England squad - four months after injury scuppered his hopes of going to Euro 2016 - he was probably telling the truth.

The overriding impression was of a player who was delighted to reacquaint himself with everything St George's Park has to offer, having been recalled by Gareth Southgate for the World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia.

Oxlade-Chamberlain sounded determined to make up for lost time. He was a regular under Roy Hodgson whenever he was fit and Allardyce's decision to overlook him for last month's trip to Slovakia came as a shock.

Much as it hurt the Arsenal midfielder to be at home while England were beginning the process of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with that late 1-0 win in Trnava, he took it in the right way.

"It provided a kick up the backside," said the player nicknamed "The Ox". "I have been playing for England since I was 18 and, while I wouldn't say I took it all for granted, it just seemed to be a part of my season - to play for Arsenal and to play for England. It was a jolt.

"I am not young now. I am 23, so you need to be performing and playing as much as you can to deserve a chance to go and play for England. Being back in the set-up makes me realise how special it is."

It was a refreshing admission from Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has had to deal with more than his fair share of setbacks during his stop-start career.

He has rarely been able to put a run of games together. And it was the cruellest of ironies he missed Euro 2016 because he used a day off to build his fitness by training with the youth team in May, and suffered a medial ligament injury in the process.

The lengthy absences have had an effect.

Oxlade-Chamberlain began pre-season with the intention of working harder than ever but, while he felt his club form was good at the start of the season, Allardyce was unconvinced.

It is a surprise, perhaps, that Southgate has taken a different view.

For all Oxlade-Chamberlain's obvious talent - the driving runs, the pace, the wicked shots - consistency remains elusive.

He has been a substitute for Arsenal in recent weeks and it is not difficult to see why Gunners manager Arsene Wenger recently wondered whether he has enough faith in his own ability.

"It's difficult to find anything that he hasn't got," said the Frenchman. "But maybe he doesn't completely believe in himself as to how good he can be."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Ox relishes return after 'kick up the backside''. Print Edition | Subscribe