It’s no secret that, aside from a blistering 45 minutes at Watford, Arsenal have struggled to click as a team so far this season.
They have been excellent in parts of games, but have failed to really put a complete performance together.
There are perhaps a number of reasons why that has been the case but, prominent among them, has been the under-performance of a handful of players, coupled with the lack of a cohesive game plan from the manager.
The barometer of that lack of cohesion has been midfielder Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, who has struggled to hit top gear in the opening handful of games this season.
So what is missing? What part of his game is not functioning as it should? What is stopping him from progressing from talented prospect to Premier League star?
It’s difficult to pin down precisely, but I suspect confidence has a significant part to play.
After so many false dawns, injury setbacks and first team frustrations, Alex is clearly desperate to make it work. Everybody has spoken about just how important this season is for his Arsenal future, and it seems the same thoughts have been weighing heavily on his mind.
In pre-season, he was superb. He was very lively, very direct, taking people on, getting balls in the box. He was a real handful for defenders.
There were flashes of that in the opening game of the game of the season against Liverpool, where he scored his only goal of the season so far. Since then, however, he has struggled to be quite so incisive and direct. He appears to be trying too hard.
So much of what he has been doing, and the positions he has been getting into, are promising, but the end product has been missing. The killer touch, finish, or pass that comes so easily when you’re in form and confident has just deserted him, and you can see from the frustration on his face that he knows it.
His crossing in particular has been way wide of the mark. Against Southampton and PSG he was over hitting the ball by miles, turning what should have been a good cross into a deep pass to Nacho Monreal.
It may only take a moment of magic, an important goal, a last-minute through ball that gets us a goal, to turn things around for Alex, but it’s just not happening for him at the moment. What’s more, he may soon find that his first team opportunities dry up, particularly if Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi continue to play some good football.
Of course, all is not lost. Alex remains a very talented, very promising footballer, and the season is very young, but this is a year where he needs to convert promise into goals and assists. He needs to have a measurable impact on game.
Like Serge Aurier of PSG, he needs to be giving full backs nightmares, surging towards the byline, making crosses, and finding gaps to exploit.
But he must also be mindful of his defensive duties, too. He was solid enough in Paris, making two tackles and two interceptions, but his efforts in the Premier League have been wanting thus far. According to whoscored.com, Alex has averaged less than a tackle and an interception per game in his four league appearances.
By contrast, Granit Xhaka has averaged 2.7 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per game so far, and Santi Cazorla has averaged two tackles and an interception per game.
Of course, their roles in the team are different, but it’s a reminder that we have to defend as a team, and not just disappear upfield, leaving Granit to fend for himself as teams break on our exposed defence.
It’s difficult to say whether Alex will keep his place in the starting line-up for the trip to Hull. That may well depend on the fitness of Theo Walcott, as I suspect Olivier Giroud will be re-installed up front and Alexis will return to his slot in midfield.
If he doesn’t he will have to be patient and wait for a chance from the bench, and that may be a benefit to him, particularly if we are chasing the win and he is given free reign to really run at his full back.
Whether he starts or not, Alex has first and foremost to keep things simple. Like Aaron Ramsey, he has to focus on the getting the fundamentals of his game right. Show for the ball, run at the opposition, make some crosses. If he can build from there, and make sure his positioning is right when we revert to defence, he can find form again.