Oxlade-Chamberlain's versatility and promise is worth persisting with
In football's hyper-inflationary transfer market, how much would you pay for a player who had beaten their previous best tallies for goals and assists in 2016-17, impressed in no less than five different positions, as well as playing in a couple more on top of that, and just to put themselves firmly in the shop window had scored for their country in a World Cup qualifier at the weekend?
Arsenal already have such a player, and his name is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It is now vital that the club resist rumours of a move to a Premier League rival and tie him down to an improved contract. Given the season he has had, he would not be easy, or cheap, to replace.
The futures of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have understandably garnered rather more coverage, but Oxlade-Chamberlain also has just one year remaining on his contract and giving him a new one should be next on the list of priorities for the club this summer. It is just as well, then, that sources have told ESPN FC talks are to be held with the midfielder. Losing him now would be a gross act of self-harm.
It remains true that Oxlade-Chamberlain is yet to convince every Arsenal fan of his worth, and the suspicion lingers that he is still performing at least one or two levels below his potential, but he arguably had his best season in an Arsenal shirt and his level of performance, combined with his tactical versatility, should be enough to convince Arsene Wenger and the board it is worth moving quickly to secure his future.
With six goals and 11 assists, the 23-year-old had his most productive season since joining the club from Southampton in the summer of 2011. Importantly, he also made more appearances than ever, 45, after avoiding the kind of serious injuries that had stunted his development.
These improved numbers are also underpinned by his extraordinary versatility. In the 4-2-3-1 that Arsenal started the season with, Oxlade-Chamberlain played on both sides of the attack as he started compiling his goals and assists. When Wenger surprised everyone by switching to a back three in April, Oxlade-Chamberlain excelled as a right-wing-back before also playing on the left in a 3-4-2-1 in the FA Cup final win over Chelsea.
When Wenger tried to deploy a midfield three in February and March, and notably against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Oxlade-Chamberlain came into the centre. He even made two substitute appearances as a right-back in November, replacing Carl Jenkinson in matches against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and Manchester United in the Premier League. No other player in the squad could switch around so many positions and maintain an acceptable level of performance.
Versatility is a very useful quality, up to a point. Football is littered with players whose adaptability has stopped them ever looking truly great in one position, and there is certainly a danger that Oxlade-Chamberlain will fall into that bracket. In May he said his "main ambition" is to end up as a central midfielder but his electric pace and impressive dribbling skills make him an obvious asset in a wide position just now. If you needed a reminder, he came in from a wide position to score for England in the 2-2 draw against Scotland in Saturday's World Cup qualifier. There is no definitive answer as to how his career will pan out.
But it is essential for Arsenal that the process of discovering who Oxlade-Chamberlain is as a player, the process of reaching his full potential in whichever position he plays, continues at the club. When he does reach full maturity he could be quite some player; to miss out on the flowering of his talent after putting in all the groundwork would be galling.
There are reports that Liverpool are considering a £40 million offer for Oxlade-Chamberlain and that may even seem tempting for a player who has one year left on his contract. But this season made it abundantly clear he is a player worth persisting with. He is a player worth investing in. Even if no one really knows what kind of player he will eventually become.
Tom is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @tomEurosport