Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has stepped up for Arsenal in absence of key players in midfield

Not always Arsene Wenger's No 1 choice, Englishman has made up for loss of Xhaka, Ramsey and Elneny – as he demonstrated in games against Chelsea and, most recently, Hull City, writes Greg Lea.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain impressed for Arsenal against the likes of Chelsea and Hull City. Clive Rose / Getty Images
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He did not face much competition, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was probably Arsenal’s best performer in last weekend’s 3-1 loss to Chelsea.

At the Emirates Stadium seven days later, the England international once again impressed as Arsene Wenger’s men returned to winning ways against Hull City.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has primarily played out wide in his career so far, but the absence of Granit Xhaka, Santi Cazorla, Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey saw him deployed in the centre of midfield against the league leaders last time out.

It is not an entirely unfamiliar position for the former Southampton man, who has sporadically been fielded in the engine room throughout his career.

He had previously not done enough to convince Wenger that he was a long-term option in that role, however, but another promising performance in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Hull suggests he could be more than a mere stop-gap solution in the middle of the park.

Arsenal began the game against Marco Silva’s strugglers a little nervously, with back-to-back defeats by Watford and Chelsea having clearly impacted upon the players’ confidence.

Hull’s quick transitions caused the hosts problems in the opening exchanges, but Arsenal soon settled and duly took control of proceedings for the remainder of the first period.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, 23, was the driving force behind his side’s frequent forays forward, picking up the ball in space and carrying it into the attacking third.

His distribution was excellent, too: several incisive passes were threaded in behind or lofted over the top, while he also demonstrated his intelligence by choosing the right moments to simply retain possession and keep the ball moving.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was the architect of Arsenal’s first two chances of the afternoon, setting up Hector Bellerin after a neat one-two and then fashioning an opportunity for Alexis Sanchez following a direct dribble through the centre of the pitch.

It was the Chilean who then opened the scoring a few minutes later, as Hull’s desperate appeals for handball fell on deaf ears.

The visitors recovered well from that setback, though, and showed that the game was not over with some positive play after the interval.

Lazar Markovic made life difficult for Kieran Gibbs, who was perhaps a little fortunate to avoid a red card for a last-man foul on the Liverpool loanee, while Oumar Niasse’s powerful running gave centre-halves Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi plenty to think about.

Oxlade-Chamberlain remained key to Arsenal’s attacking efforts with his industry, although Wenger’s charges found themselves under increasing pressure as Silva’s side pushed forward in search of an equaliser. Markovic, Niasse and Adama Diomande all had chances to level the scores, before Sanchez finally put the game to bed in injury time, slotting his penalty past Eldin Jakupovic after Sam Clucas was dismissed for handling Lucas Perez’s header on the line.

“We have to fight no matter what the gap is,” Wenger said in his post-match news conference, addressing the nine-point margin separating his team from table-topping Chelsea. “We have to find some confidence back. It was just important to win today.”

This was far from a flawless display from Arsenal, with steel rather than silk the order of the day.

Sanchez’s two goals, which took him to the top of the Premier League’s scoring charts, served as one major positive for Wenger, as did the work of Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield.

Xhaka is no longer suspended, Ramsey is nearing a return to fitness and Elneny is back from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, has done enough to keep his place in the heart of the Arsenal side going forward.

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