Wenger: 2012 will be year of the Ox

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger feels 2012 could be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's year.

First goal on his first start!

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 Barclays 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 tomorrow 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 tomorrow, 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.



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