Soccer-Return of the Ox to centre stage lifts Arsenal


By Tom Hayward

LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a welcome return to goal-scoring form on Sunday to provide a timely lift for the injury-hit Premier League leaders.

The England international, who missed five months of the season with a knee injury, played in an unfamiliar central midfield role and scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.

With Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Abou Diaby and new signing Kim Kallstrom injured and Mathieu Flamini suspended, Oxlade-Chamberlain's performance was a huge boost for manager Arsene Wenger.

"He can play both wide and centrally, but certainly I think he will be a central midfielder in the future. He had a great game and scored two great goals and proved me right," Wenger told reporters.

"He has that surge of power which is so vital in the game today. He is also a good finisher and hopefully these two goals will give him some confidence as he is not always sure he is a good goalscorer.

"He has been out for a long time so it is great to have him back to full fitness. He was injured in that famous game against Aston Villa at the start of the season."

Oxlade-Chamberlain's first goal came within two minutes of the start of the second half when he finished smartly from Santi Cazorla's chipped pass.

The England international doubled Arsenal's tally after he linked up brilliantly with Olivier Giroud to put the result beyond doubt.

"It was a tough game but we knew that in the second half if we kept the tempo up we would get more opportunities and thankfully we did," Oxlade-Chamberlain told Sky Sports.

"It was nice to get the win today, it is always an amazing feeling to score a goal. I've been off the pitch for a while so it was nice to come back and help the team."

Arsenal's only business during the transfer window was the loan signing of Swedish midfielder Kallstrom but the 31-year-old will have to wait to make his debut after suffering a micro fracture in his back.

"The end of February is the best case scenario for his return," Wenger said. "It did cross my mind about completing the deal and if it was a few days earlier maybe we would have not made the signing. But it was five o'clock on Friday,"

"I know the player personally very well. He has 108 caps for Sweden and played for a long time in France."

Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis praised his side's effort but they lacked the attacking quality to hurt their hosts.

"We played Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City away and were a real threat," he said.

"Those days our two wide players played very well and we looked a real threat but today they weren't as good and so weren't as much of a threat as we should've been." (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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