Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to miss the coming games with a hamstring injury. Thankfully, his Arsenal replacement might be even better, especially in the long-term.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been the best player in an Arsenal shirt since the turn of the year. Initially given the chance to forge a starting role in the first team as a central midfielder, Chamberlain has impressed in a number of different roles, from an attacking midfield to a position to a wide man.
Since Arsene Wenger made the formational shift to a 3-4-3 system, however, Chamberlain has been stationed as the right wing-back. It is a role that, while not his most natural, has been one that he has continued to impress in. But a hamstring issue suffered in the midweek win over Southampton forced Chamberlain off in the first half and will keep him out for the foreseeable future.
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Changes will have to be made and Wenger, rightly, believes that he has the perfect replacement in line. Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Wenger revealed that Hector Bellerin is the ideal alternative option to Chamberlain, even after toiling through some poor form in recent months:
“Yes he is [a natural replacement], he is an offensive player. He started as a right midfielder and we transformed him into a full-back. He’s a player who has a fantastic mentality,” Wenger said. “He went through a difficult period when he came back from his ankle injury, but I never questioned his attitude. He has great spirit.”
Wenger is correct in his judgement of the Spaniard and his talents. In fact, it may not be ridiculous to suggest that Bellerin could be a better option than Chamberlain, at least in the long-term. Although Chamberlain has been excellent as an attacking threat on the right flank, there are moments where he loses his defensive positioning and can be exposed as a result.
Bellerin is a far more experienced and accomplished defender. Although he may not offer the same offensive threat that a more natural winger can, he does still bring an element of pace, athleticism and directness from a wide area that will help break down Stoke City.
Thinking longer term, Bellerin is perfectly suited to the wing-back role, having played as an attacking full-back with great success throughout his short career thus far. While he may, formally, be considered a replacement for Chamberlain, there is the chance that he could actually be an improvement.