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The link between Liverpool and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is one that has stuck around, despite Jürgen Klopp himself denying it, and it’s one that has created a lot of debate amongst Liverpool supporters. Unlike Salah, Van Dijk or Lacazette, who all were almost universally hyped up as soon as the link was made, reactions to the Ox have varied from delight, to apprehension, to disbelief, and even confusion. Certainly it’s a signing that is not straightforwardly good or bad and reaction to it may depend on many factors: including price, his role in the team, and who else Liverpool sign.
All of this makes the latest report on the Ox’s future seem somewhat odd. Oxlade-Chamberlain allegedly wants to leave to become a key player at another side, and to start to develop consistently playing in the same role. In the same report, it says that one of the things that Klopp values most about the Ox is his versatility. Whilst that isn’t itself a contradiction, looking deeper at the situation presents a circle that is very much hard to square.
Arsenal to Liverpool in the current market is very much a sideways step in a lot of ways. Liverpool are unlikely to offer significantly more money than Arsenal, and are arguably unlikely to offer a significantly better chance to win trophies. Which means that the key factor for Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to be getting game time, and more importantly, getting game time in one regular position.
Sardonic Twitter responses are usually best ignored when it comes to Liverpool and transfers, but there were some intelligent responses amongst the replies. A couple of people responded “he won’t be coming to LFC then”, whilst one or two made the point that unless he’s planning on playing left-back, there isn’t space in our team for him to be a regular starter in a consistent position.
And this for me is the crux of the issue. Would I be opposed to signing Oxlade-Chamberlain as a reserve winger or auxiliary midfield option? Not really. But would Oxlade-Chamberlain be opposed to signing in order to be a reserve winger or auxiliary midfield option? That’s another question.
If you look at Liverpool’s front six currently, assuming that Klopp will predominantly stick with some sort of back four next season, you have essentially nine players currently battling for those six spots: Hendo, Emre, Gini, Lallana, Couts, Bobby, Mané, Studge and Origi. If you assume Liverpool are going to sign at least one more attacking player (be it Salah or whoever else), then that makes ten. So where does Ox fit into that equation? Does he start at DM ahead of Hendo or Can? Well no not really. Is he a better midfield option than Gini or Lallana? Probably not. Does he start on the wing? Well he’s miles behind Coutinho and Mané and if we sign Salah or another genuinely class left-winger he won’t start there either. Even then, Bobby is probably a better wing option, allowing Origi or Sturridge to play up front and Ox simply isn’t being signed as a striker.
So where does this leave him? He’s not starting as a winger and he’s not starting as a central midfielder, and those are both positions that Liverpool will want to have strengthened by the time the window closes anyway. In fact, should Liverpool sign Salah, there’s certainly a case to be made that Ox would struggle to make the bench if Liverpool have a fully fit squad to choose from. Compare that to Arsenal, where admittedly he’s being shunted around, but his biggest opposition on the right wing is Theo Walcott, and in central midfield it’s Granit Xhaka.
This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t take Oxlade-Chamberlain because well I would. It’s going to be a long season and we will need reinforcements in every area. But given that he’ll be our third or fourth choice winger, and maybe even sixth choice central midfielder, where does he currently fit into our squad? Just that, as a squad player, a rotation option.
And that’s before we even look at the biggest problem with Oxlade-Chamberlain, which is his injury record. Liverpool have a lot of extremely talented players at their disposal whose careers have been consistently stunted through injuries, and with all of them to contend with, bringing in another player who fits that profile strikes me as absolutely insane.
But as I say, the problem with signing Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t even Liverpool’s problem, it’s his. To be honest, right now I’m struggling to look at our team and see who our best XI is, and that’s a very good thing. Throwing a winger into the mix and allowing Coutinho to drop deeper is a salivating proposition that means Liverpool have a plethora of talent at their disposal. So any other big name signings this summer I want to be at least of a similar quality, if not better. And if we sign Ox, he’ll be nowhere near our best XI, which is allegedly the exact opposite of what he wants.
So how do you square the problem of what Oxlade-Chamberlain wants, and the reality of Liverpool’s current squad? Well it’s entirely plausible that Klopp thinks he can fit Oxlade-Chamberlain into our starting XI, maybe as a wing-back, or maybe he’s planning to drop Can, Lallana and Wijnaldum and start him in midfield alongside Coutinho. I wouldn’t agree with that, but if that’s what Klopp wants to do then he must see something in Ox that I don’t. Because in my mind, you cannot square the reality of our squad with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s presumed role in it.
That, and he’s probably just using us to negotiate a better deal at Arsenal anyway.