A truck-load of salt is a requirement when reading transfer rumours involving Liverpool Football Club, often news outlets will join dots and fabricate stories to generate a sizeable number of clicks.
Rumours of Joe Hart being a target for Liverpool are a stellar example of this as, at the beginning of 2017, it wasn’t clear whether Jurgen Klopp will be satisfied with his goalkeeping options for next season but it’s clear Pep Guardiola isn’t happy with his and Hart is set for a Manchester City exit.
City want to get rid of a decent ‘keeper and Liverpool might be interested in one – it’s a very easy conclusion to come to and a lazy journalist can easily just point the finger at an anonymous (non-existent) source or just claim “these things happen” and shrug their shoulders.
I can’t really feign innocence to that as, for the headline of this article, I’ve cherry picked an Arsenal fan’s most eye-catching line in a hope to grab your attention.
However, there is genuinely rewarding content within this article if you stick around. In light of the rumours surrounding Liverpool and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, I’ve had a chat with football writer and Arsenal fan Brandon Boyer about “The Ox”.
You see, I thought I knew a bit about Ox. The last time I checked, he played on the wings and that’s his best position… Nope!
Turns out I knew relatively little on the Ox front as Brandon told me the Englishman’s best position is in fact central midfield! I imagine fans of Dutch football that haven’t been watching Gini Wijnaldum of recent would find themselves in a similar position to myself when I was told informed.
Here’s the conversation about the potential Liverpool summer signing between Brandon and myself in full…
What is Oxlade-Chamberlain’s best position and why?
“Oxlade-Chamberlain’s best position is central midfield, he loves playing in the middle of the park, the difference between him being stuck out on the left or right side of the field and him being the attacking fulcrum at centre mid is remarkable.
“When he plays on the wings, he thinks he has to dribble at defenders, challenge them and beat them one-on-one. More often than not, he runs away from his support and is either stranded out by the corner flag, forced to make an attack happen on his own or he loses the ball.
“When he plays in the centre of the park, he plays more deliberately. Sure, you get those flashes of acceleration and ball control but he also looks to play the pass first, rather than dribbling. That little change makes a huge difference in his effectiveness with Arsenal. His distribution is extremely good. If he has wings we can work with, he’s nearly unstoppable, playing one-two passes and pressing high.
“Personally, I think he’d be incredible as a central attacking midfielder – he’ll never play there with Ozil still alive and kicking or under Wenger’s system. He has [the] speed to play off a target man forward, the technical ability to control the ball, dribble, and move through gaps and he has an amazing shot when he’s not just snatching at the ball.
“Maybe in a couple [of] years he’ll move up to that role. I’m not sure. The problem with that is that he’s also excellent at tracking back and becoming a fourth or fifth man on defence. Put him at central attacking midfield and that defensive work rate becomes unnecessary.”
What other positions is he capable of playing in?
“He plays centre midfield fluently. He was born and raised into the left mid and right mid positions, pressing higher into more of a flanking winger position, pushing runs in behind full backs. A few times this season he’s dabbled at a reserved, almost defensive midfield role, which has been fascinating to watch. He’s nearly as good at defensive midfield as he is as the box-to-box midfielder he loves to play.”
Who’s he most like in Liverpool’s squad do you think? My best guess would be Gini Wijnaldum or Adam Lallana.
“If I had to compare with my limited watching experience this season with Liverpool, I’d say he’s positionally like Adam Lallana with the skill set of Coutinho. He loves to press, distribute, cut inside and dribble. Excellent at dribbling and playing through balls, which is unfortunate in Arsenal’s system where there’s no one outside of Alexis effectively pushing the back line and making defenders uncomfortable.
“So, Coutinho playing centre mid if Coutinho liked playing centre mid, if I’m honest.”
Will he fit into Klopp’s team – will he press?
“He’d fit into Klopp’s system easily. With Henderson as an attacking backbone, Firmino, Mane, Coutinho… It’d be crazy. I feel like he’d slot right into a system that has such a decentralised form of attacking, where anyone could score at anytime. It’d make a huge difference from where he’s at now.”
Can he put in a defensive contribution?
“Ox can definitely make a defensive contribution. He tracks back well, making himself a fourth, fifth, or even sixth man on defense. He has a few issues when beaten 1-on-1, losing the play and stopping, but he presses well, he tracks back inside for support when a fullback moves to the ball. He just hasn’t had too many opportunities at Arsenal outside of this season to show that side of his game.”
What’s he worth? It’s reported Liverpool value him around £20m and Arsenal £35m.
“I think if you take out his age and look at his contributions, injury history, and versatility, you have a £20-25m player. However, with the Premier League market saturated with money, the homegrown markup, and him being just 23, he moves up into that £30-35m player range. Mark it up some more with these two squads having such an intense and long history against each other, as well as Liverpool being a traditional powerhouse and challenger for the title, and you could see Arsenal marking him at a premium anywhere between £35-40m. Easily.
“If I’m running Arsenal and I have all these factors to consider, but understanding the need to sell any unsettled players, I mark him as a £30m player. Would I ask for £35-40m given the history between Liverpool and Arsenal? Of course. But I could be negotiated down to £30m for an England international with a solid 6-8 years of tread on his tires.”
How would you feel if he left Arsenal and joined Liverpool and would it impact either squad considerably?
“I would be quite upset, if I’m honest. He is such a big personality at Arsenal. He’s all over their YouTube channel and he has a great fighting spirit about him. That’s only going to grow the longer he’s at Arsenal. If we see Alexis or Ozil or both move out this summer and he stays, he could become a key figure within the side. Health notwithstanding, he could be a week-in, week-out starting eleven player for Arsenal from this season on.
“However, at Liverpool, he offers another set of teeth to a multi-headed, vicious attack. He slots into that system of attack almost anywhere you need him. Lots of fellow England internationals, plus the weight of Firmino, Coutinho, and Mane taking the weight off of Ox’s own shoulders, and you have an attacking powder keg ready to blow every single game week.”