What is not to like about the Ox: a total professional, wears his heart on his sleeve, gives his all and he fuses speed and silkiness to the highest degree. Alex is a great guy and we all would love him to come good…. But he has not been coming good for quite a while now; and I feel we have to be cruel to be kind: send him out on loan and tell him to convince us how good he really is.
The Ox joined us ages ago and has played 90 PL games, exactly as many as Ross Barkley. I reckon Barkley is a similar player to the Ox: both are attacking midfielders who can play on the wing; they have a good dribble and a fabulous shot-power, are fast and have an eye for a key pass as well; they are also both 22 and belong to England’s most promising prospects for the national team. But one is in the ascendency and the other is sliding down.
Whilst the Ox is struggling to establish himself in the first team (despite all our injuries), Ross Barkley is in the form of his life. Barkley played 1334 minutes in the PL this season already, scoring an impressive six goals and producing an equally impressive five assists; he also produces 1.9 key passes per game and his passing success rate is at 87.2% per game. The Ox has played just 429 minutes in the PL this season, with no goals or assists, 0.5 key passes per game and 84.6% passing success rate.
Is Barkley that much better than the Ox? I don’t think so. But Barkley plays at a club where he is allowed to make a few mistakes, where there is less pressure to win each and every game and where he can grow by playing week in week out. And this is now paying dividend for the Toffees. He has learned to make his head think as fast as his body can run and his legs can move the ball, and he is delivering the goods on a weekly basis.
It is the opposite of Ox’s situation right now, and having watched him this season, I reckon he is under too much self-pressure and club pressure to perform well at Arsenal. Sometimes a step down is needed to make two steps upwards. The Ox should go on loan to the likes of Swansea, Southampton, Watford or Leicester for half a season at least, with an agreement that he will play as much as possible. I reckon it will do him a world of good and we will come to see the true Ox: flying on wings and bullying the opposition with his power and sharpened horns, whilst using his head to make all his effort count. He would then improve his goal and assist per game ratio and deliver a lot more key passes per game; so that when he goes back to Arsenal, he is ready to claim a first team spot.
It is about time we start regarding sending our most promising youngsters on loan not as a punishment but a key part of their development. It did Le Coq and Wilshere a world of good, and the Ox should follow their example if he is to fulfil his enormous potential.
Who agrees and disagrees, and why?