As with several signings under Jürgen Klopp, it took some time for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get a chance to show what he could do for Liverpool.
It would come into increasingly sharp focus that the England international represented a player brought in to offer a valuable, dynamic, dangerous link between midfield and attack.
The club, seemingly, was aware at the time that Philippe Coutinho – who regularly represented that link himself – would likely depart for Barcelona in January 2018 following a somewhat messy summer flirtation.
So that would prove, of course. And, pleasingly, Oxlade-Chamberlain grew into a role that increasingly maximised his attributes.
There had been promising stints in central midfield for the Gunners but he had often operated from elsewhere. For instance, just four days prior to his Merseyside switch, he started at right wing-back in an Arsenal team that was beaten 4-0 at Anfield.
He debuted as a half-time substitute in the chastening 5-0 defeat at Manchester City on September 9. It was a game in which the Reds were already two goals and a man down, following Sadio Mané’s 37th-minute red card. It was evident that little could be read into it.
Following another appearance from the bench a week later in a 1-1 Anfield draw with Burnley, he made his first start in the 2-0 League Cup loss at Leicester City on September 19. Operating from the right wing, he was far from at his best. Again, though, patience would prove a virtue.
An evening largely defined by sloppiness, this wasn’t a night that reflected where he would most often be positioned for the Reds or what he would ultimately offer the team across the 105 appearances he has made so far.
There were more substitute showings, the most promising of which came in the latter stages of the 0-0 home draw with Manchester United on October 14.
A 35-minute stint at the end of the 7-0 Champions League success at NK Maribor three days later then produced his first goal for the club as he burst onto a Daniel Sturridge pass to score the sixth.
From there, steadily, things evolved. He operated on the right of a virtual front-four – and scored his first in the Premier League for the Merseysiders – in the 4-1 win at West Ham United in early November, as he seemingly began to shift towards that role on the right of the midfield three.
He performed a similar function in the 3-0 success at Stoke City at the end of the month, before he made a promising first outing in that aforementioned midfield position in the frustrating but dominant 1-1 draw with Everton on December 10.
Then he produced a nicely weighted assist for Mohamed Salah when he again started there in the 4-0 victory at Bournemouth a week later.
He returned to midfield for the 5-0 Boxing Day win over Swansea City – where he scored his third Liverpool goal – before he went up a level.
Coutinho was a Barcelona player by the time the enthralling 4-3 Anfield win over Manchester City rolled around on January 14 and Oxlade-Chamberlain, pleasingly, was now making that new midfield role his own.
He fired home a 25-yard first-half opener and teed-up Roberto Firmino to make it 2-1 with a clever pass early in the second half.Embed from Getty Images
Both moments followed incisive, purposeful drives forward by the Southampton academy graduate – and highlighted the attributes he could offer in that role.
He provided further assists – both to Salah – in home victories over West Ham and Newcastle United in late February and early March respectively.
Then, he fired home that howitzer and put in another barnstorming display in the 3-0 Champions League quarter-final first-leg victory over Manchester City in early April – and also represented a crucial outlet in the more backs-to-the-wall 1-2 second-leg success at the Etihad.
There were more assists – against Bournemouth and West Bromwich Albion – and then came the injury.
He’d been growing nicely into the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Roma before his excellent sliding challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov inadvertently led to significant cruciate ligament damage in his right knee.
It was a substantial blow, despite the rip-roaring 5-2 victory that night and eventual progression to the final.
Sadly, 366 days would pass before Oxlade-Chamberlain would take to the field again for Liverpool.
The events surrounding the final feel telling in several senses.
One one level, Klopp spoke of how the ex-Gunner delayed informing his teammates of the extent of the injury in an attempt to avoid lowering the mood within the squad in the latter weeks of the campaign.
On another, there was the nature of the game itself. Mohamed Salah’s substitution after half-an-hour, following that infamous tussle with Sergio Ramos, left the Reds comparatively lacking in cutting edge and dynamism down one side of the pitch.
This is, of course, hypothetical, but it feels like the presence of a natural midfield runner in Oxlade-Chamberlain could have made a notable difference in softening the blow of Salah’s absence.
Come 2019/20, he was at least able to make a number of notable contributions once more – even if injury issues were dotted throughout the season.
It remains his best goalscoring term with the club to date, as he found the net eight times in all competitions. His first goals since returning from injury came on October 23 in the 1-4 Champions League group stage win over Genk.
In trademark fashion, both of his strikes that night came from range – the second being a sublime effort with the outside of his right boot which found the net via the underside of the crossbar.
There was another screamer the following week in the 5-5 League Cup thriller against his former club Arsenal, which the Reds edged on penalties.
Seven days after that, came another goal. This time, playing through the middle of the frontline, he swivelled and shot in the box to decisively make it 2-1 in the Anfield return against Genk.
League strikes against Bournemouth, West Ham and Southampton followed within Liverpool’s impeccable winter form.
The fact that, in the final match before Covid-19 brought football to a halt, he started and was prominent from midfield in the 2-3 Champions League last 16 second-leg defeat to Atlético Madrid – generally viewed as one of the team’s best displays of early 2020 – was a marker of the form he had found by this stage and the unique attributes he could again offer.
He stung the palms of Jan Oblak more than once that night, represented a consistent driving force, and delivered the superbly flighted cross that teed-up Georginio Wijnaldum’s opener.
This, again, was Oxlade-Chamberlain – when fit and firing – showing what different dimensions he could bring to the team at the highest level.
It could be argued that he, alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez and Jordan Henderson, would have all been starters for England at the Euros had they all stayed fit and had they indeed taken place in the summer of 2020. Hypothetical, once more, but another marker of the levels he can reach.
There have been only two more Liverpool goals since that night in March 2020.
Either side of more injury issues, he closed the scoring in the Reds’ penultimate games of both 2019/20 and 2020/21. He made it 5-3 against Chelsea at Anfield on the July night that the Premier League trophy was lifted and made it 3-0 in a crucial win at Burnley a little under 10 months later.
Sporadic impacts, yes, but what Oxlade-Chamberlain can offer tends to continue to be evident. It may be that it will be difficult for that to be on a consistent basis from now on. Competition, fitness and game-management may all play a part in that.
With a full pre-season behind him heading into 2021/22, though, having such a rounded footballer within the ranks should continue to be a reason for significant positivity.
He remains someone who feels like a potential dimension-shifter for the team, particularly from midfield.
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