LONDON • Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was at a crossroads when Arsenal decided that they would listen to offers for him in the close season. But a quarter of the way into this campaign, he has already scored more goals than in any other season for the Gunners.
The 23-year-old winger found the net either side of the interval against Reading to take him to five goals for the season and help Arsenal book a place in the League Cup quarter-finals with a 2-0 win on Tuesday.
His fine start is timely, given that his contract expires at the end of next season and a decision needs to be made on his future.
He still needs plenty more similar displays - and against far better opposition - to persuade all the supporters of his worth.
Being wasteful on other occasions in front of goal against the second-tier Championship side on Tuesday will not help his cause.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, dressed unusually casually in tracksuit bottoms and trainers, said that he had no doubt about Oxlade-Chamberlain's ability.
"He's not a long way away from the starting XI... He just needs to continue to work like he does and play with the same spirit (if he wants to regularly start games)," the Frenchman told British media.
Wenger was delighted the England international, who has started only three English Premier League games this season, was not only learning from fellow winger Theo Walcott but also applying pressure on Walcott for a spot on the right wing.
"Sometimes before you felt (Oxlade-Chamberlain) acted like he didn't deserve to score in front of goal. Now you have hope whenever he has the ball that something can happen. He is powerful and finishes well," said Wenger.
"He worked very hard in training and is following Walcott, on the same trajectory. They're lifting each other but they can play on both flanks as well."
Wenger made nine changes to his starting side and said he was encouraged by the confident displays of Jeff Reine-Adelaide, 18, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 19.
Maitland-Niles, who played at right-back in the previous round but in holding midfield against Reading, was mostly measured, nearly adding to his display when he curled a shot centimetres wide.
Another man who nearly capped his evening with a goal was right-back Carl Jenkinson, playing for Arsenal for the first time in 21/2 years, on his return from a lengthy knee injury and loan spells.
For Reading manager Jaap Stam, who enjoyed a few battles with Wenger when he was a Manchester United player, there was to be no fairytale as the 44-year-old's side never truly threatened to record a first victory over Arsenal at the 14th time of asking.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN