Wenger: 2012 will be the Year of the Ox
Published 23:00 26/12/11 By John Cross
Arsene Wenger has claimed 2012 will be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s breakthrough year.
The 18-year-old has been left frustrated at his lack of first team opportunities and the £12million signing has even struggled to make it onto the bench.
Fabio Capello even talked about Oxlade-Chamberlain being an outside chance for the Euros, but England’s bright new hope has barely had any openings.
Arsenal boss Wenger insists he is now ready to let the England Under-21 winger off the leash and believes he has the potential to be one of the stars of the Premier League in 2012.
Wenger, whose side entertain Wolves on Tuesday, said: “In 2012, at the beginning of the year, he will play games. He is not far away. He is a talented boy, it’s all there – he just needs that toughness in the game because every game for us at the moment is so tight.
“The other night, again, I could have brought him on at Aston Villa and you have no hesitation to do it. But you do not want him to be a little bit overawed by the intensity of the game. He is ready to play.
“He is just missing that experience at the top level. You have to throw him a few games.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s only chance in the League came in the 8-2 drubbing at Manchester United and Wenger admits that defeat may have set him back.
The former Southampton forward has shown glimpses of his potential with stunning goals in the Champions League and Carling Cup but has not been given a chance in the League since the Old Trafford disaster.
“On the day, it was not a favour for anybody to come on. The team was completely lost and it was not the best of favours I’ve done,” said Wenger.
Wenger is likely to use Oxlade-Chamberlain from the bench against Wolves while he will also get more opportunities when Gervinho goes with the Ivory Coast to the African Nations Cup.
But Arsenal will be looking for out-of-form Andrey Arshavin to step into the breach and South Korean striker Park Chu-Young also to try and establish himself in the first team squad.
Wenger is looking at signing Arsenal legend Thierry Henry on a short-term loan from New York Red Bulls but insists he has a big enough squad to cope with Marouane Chamakh also going to the African Nations Cup. “We have a big squad. To add players to our big squad, we will have to see how we can balance our books as well,” said Wenger.
“Then, we lose Chamakh and Gervinho for January – two strikers. Maybe Chamakh has not played too many games, but he is still a security that we have. So Park has to step up.
“The adaptation period for him is over now so he has to come in and show he has the quality to play for us. I believe he has. We also have Arshavin and Chamberlain, who is now ready, slowly, to play.”
Wenger expects to see Jack Wilshere back in the early part of 2012 and Bacary Sagna could be the first of Arsenal’s four injured full-backs to return.
“Jack is doing very well, he is one week behind Bacary Sagna, so he should start to run outside next week,” said Wenger. “He could be back in the team at the end of January, beginning of February.
“You could see that Sagna is ahead of schedule. I saw him still limping a little bit so we have to be careful but physically he will be ready very quickly because he worked very hard in the gym.
“We can think about him returning as soon as he will be capable to touch the ball. We think the end of January is a reasonable target.”
Wenger, who is hoping Johan Djourou could be fit to be back in the squad after a groin injury, is expecting a tough game against Wolves.
The Frenchman says he admires the never-say-die spirit that opposite number Mick McCarthy has instilled in his players.
“They are a side that plays good football. They always look dangerous going forward and they make it tough for everybody. They have the Mick McCarthy spirit and attitude, they never give up,” said Wenger.
“They play a very positive game. They fight to stay in the league and you know it is always an intense game. They are dangerous and make life difficult for everybody.”