LONDON – Arsenal’s transfer market policy will come under fresh scrutiny when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to his former club with Liverpool in the Premier League on Friday.
Arsene Wenger reluctantly sold the 24-year-old for £35 million earlier this season after Oxlade-Chamberlain refused two offers of a new contract.
While not all Arsenal supporters were unhappy to see the player leave after struggles with fitness and form, his recasting by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp as a tenacious midfielder primed to spring forward at every opportunity has shown his potential and added fuel to the argument that Arsenal do not offer their top talent sufficient incentives to stay.
“He’s like a wonderful package,” said Klopp of Oxlade-Chamberlain. “It’s only just the beginning, and I really like it,” he told the Liverpool website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
After a difficult start, in which he made his debut with Liverpool 2-0 down and reduced to 10 men at Manchester City, Oxlade-Chamberlain has now made 20 appearances, starting four of the past seven league games.
Last time Liverpool and Arsenal met, at Anfield in August, Oxlade-Chamberlain was still playing wing back under Wenger when the Frenchman failed to come up with a strategy to stem the Reds’ free-flowing attack in the 4-0 defeat.
Now, Oxlade-Chamberlain forms another dimension of the same problem for Wenger, with his return also disruptive on another front.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are both following their former team mate’s example by ticking down their contracts after declining new deals. So, the England midfielder’s first trip back to the Emirates Stadium where he played for six years provides Wenger with what could be an uncomfortable glimpse of the future as former players return to haunt him.
British media are consistently linking Ozil with a move to Manchester United and Sanchez with an exit to either Paris St. Germain or Manchester City.
Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright added to the pressure on Arsenal’s management this week by suggesting that to let such players depart would represent “disgusting business”.
More immediately, Wenger’s concern will be coping without Olivier Giroud, his Plan B striker who has scored 10 goals in the final 10 minutes of games in 2017 but who now faces weeks out with a hamstring injury.
The injury could open the way for Danny Welbeck, whose Arsenal career has been frustrated by injury, but who scored in the midweek 1-0 League Cup win over West Ham United.
Friday’s game kickstarts the hectic Christmas period with all teams required to play four games in 12 days, a stiff test of every clubs’ rotation policy.
Manchester City are better placed than most, if only because their 11-point lead at the top of the Premier League represents a comfortable buffer.
On paper, their opening festive game against Bournemouth on Saturday looks straightforward, although on their last visit to Manchester, Eddie Howe’s side gave United a stern test before eventually going down 1-0 earlier this month.
Pep Guardiola was quick to stamp on talk of City bagging a clean sweep of four trophies after reaching the semi-finals of the League Cup by beating Leicester City on penalties in midweek, but that drumbeat will continue the longer they continue their unbeaten domestic run this season.
Second-placed United travel to Leicester, who are much improved of late, while Chelsea also have a tricky away trip at Everton, who are unbeaten under new manager Sam Allardyce.
Everton are one of three clubs, alongside West Ham and Crystal Palace, whose form has markedly improved since switching managers, while a fourth, West Bromwich Albion, still await a ‘new boss bounce’ under Alan Pardew.
West Brom travel to Stoke City, whose own manager Mark Hughes is under severe pressure after five defeats in six games.
Another setback would put them in the relegation zone and heighten calls for change to safely negotiate a 10th Premier League campaign.
Newcastle United, who play West Ham on Saturday, are another team in desperate need of an uplift, while Burnley will be overtaken by Tottenham Hotspur if they lose to Mauricio Pochettino’s side at Turf Moor on Saturday.
Elsewhere, Southampton play Huddersfield Town and Brighton and Hove Albion face Watford.