Wenger tipping Ox for big year

So far, Wenger has been conservative with the use of the teenage

£10million summer signing from Southampton, who scored on his

Champions League debut against Olympiacos in September. The

18-year-old’s only taste of Premier League action to date came as

substitute in the 8-2 mauling at Manchester United on August 28.

While Wenger feels that introduction was “not the best of favours I

have done”, the Gunners boss is in no doubt Oxlade-Chamberlain can

go from strength to strength in 2012 – which could even end with

inclusion in the England squad for the European Championships. “In

2012, at the beginning of the year, he will play games. He is not

far,” said Wenger, whose side will host Wolves at the Emirates

Stadium on Tuesday afternoon in a fixture which was put back from

Boxing Day because of industrial action by some London Underground

staff. “Alex is a talented boy, it is all there – he just needs

that toughness in the game and because every game for us is so

tight. “At Aston Villa last week, again, I could have brought him

on and you have the hesitation to do it – but you do not want him

to be a little bit over-ruled by the intensity of the game. “He is

ready to play. Alex is just missing that experience at the top

level. You have to throw him a few games.” Arsenal head towards

2012 with their defence stretched because of injury, which could

see Wenger enter the loan market as the transfer window opens again

on January 1, when he is also set to make a decision on whether to

bring former captain Thierry Henry back on a short-term deal ahead

of the new Major League Soccer season. Given both Ivory Coast

forward Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh will both shortly be away at

the African Nations Cup, Wenger is set to need all of his attacking

options available. As yet, Arsenal have seen only glimpses of what

South Korea captain Park Ju-young is capable of, with a well-taken

finish in the Carling Cup win over Bolton his only goal so far from

four appearances – none of which have come in the Premier League.

Wenger, though, accepts the 26-year-old has to go through a period

of acclimatisation following an August transfer deadline move from

Monaco. “It has been difficult because I have not given him the

chance to play and the intensity of the challenges – some players

take short, others take long. But it takes you time,” said the

Arsenal manager. “You see a player like [Laurent] Koscielny last

year, he was still sometimes surprised by the physical demands of

the game. This year, he is dominating the physical challenge, that

shows it takes time.” Swiss international defender Johan Djourou

could return from a minor groin problem on Tuesday, while Wenger

must also decide whether to rest skipper Robin van Persie who, with

34 league goals in 2011, is close to breaking the Premier League

record for a calendar year.