Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: ‘England omission was kick up backside’

Arsenal midfielder says his recall made him realise how special it is being in the England squad and he is determined to make up for lost time

It is not often a footballer starts an interview by telling a group of journalists he has missed them and, if the line had been delivered by anyone other than Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the sarcasm detectors might never have recovered. But given that the midfielder was left out of Sam Allardyce’s one and only England squad, four months after a piece of misfortune scuppered his hopes of going to Euro 2016, he was probably telling the truth.

The overriding impression was of a player who was delighted to reacquaint himself with everything St George’s Park has to offer having been recalled by Gareth Southgate for the World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia, and Oxlade-Chamberlain sounded determined to make up for lost time. He was a regular under Roy Hodgson whenever he was fit and Allardyce’s decision to overlook him for last month’s trip to Slovakia came as a shock, not that he harbours any resentment towards the man who lost his job as England’s manager in such unusual circumstances.

Oxlade-Chamberlain did not get a chance to speak to Allardyce about his omission and insisted nothing should be read into pictures that appeared on social media of him working in the gym during the last international break. “I don’t think Sam had Instagram,” he said. Much as it hurt the Arsenal midfielder to be at home while England were beginning the process of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup with that late win in Trnava, he took it in the right way.

“It provided a kick up the backside,” Oxlade-Chamberlain said. “I have been playing for England since I was 18 and, while I wouldn’t say I took it all for granted, it just seemed to be a part of my season – to play for Arsenal and to play for England. It was a jolt.

“I am not young now. I am 23, so you need to be performing and playing as much as you can to deserve a chance to go and play for England. Being back in the setup makes me realise how special it is.”

It was a refreshing admission from Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has had to deal with more than his fair share of setbacks during his stop-start career. He has rarely been able to put a run of games together and it was the cruellest of ironies he missed Euro 2016 because he used a day off to build his fitness by training with the youth team in May, having just recovered from the knee injury he suffered against Barcelona in February.

Two years after he hurt his right knee in a friendly before the last World Cup his luck was out again. He caught his studs in the turf, extended his medial ligament and found himself crawling off the pitch in agony.

The lengthy absences have had an effect. Oxlade-Chamberlain began pre-season with the intention of working harder than ever but, while he felt his club form was good at the start of the season, Allardyce was unconvinced.

It is a surprise, perhaps, that Southgate has taken a different view. For all Oxlade-Chamberlain’s obvious talent – the driving runs, the pace, the wicked shots – consistency remains elusive. He has been a substitute for Arsenal in recent weeks and it is not difficult to see why Arsène Wenger recently wondered whether he has enough faith in his own ability. “It’s difficult to find anything that he hasn’t got,” Arsenal’s manager said. “But maybe he doesn’t completely believe in himself as to how good he can be.”

Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has spoken to Wenger about the mental side of the game, sat back in his chair and sipped from a bottle of water when that quote was read out to him.

“Obviously there’s times in your career when people doubt you,” he said. “You have good form, bad form, get criticised, get bigged up. You go through spells of trying to find out how much to listen to, what not to pay too much attention to. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I hadn’t lost a little bit of confidence. But the people around me, close to me, were the ones to tell me I’d been playing slightly differently, not as confidently as I had been.

“Then I’d look at my game a bit closer, how I used to play, how I played more positively and there had been times when I looked for more simple options. That’s part of developing and learning as a young player. Do I believe in myself? Yeah, of courseI do. But there’s a lot of external factors in there. How much you play, how you play. But I’ve learnt now to get on with things.”