Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been forced to grow accustomed to injury-induced disappointment throughout a career littered with enforced absences.
But none have hurt quite so much as 2014 when a three-week lay-off at the end of the season was enough for Arsene Wenger to leave the England international out of his FA Cup final squad.
That day, the fit-again Oxlade-Chamberlain pleaded with his manager to change his mind and include him but the Frenchman’s decision had been made.
The youngster would go to Wembley as Arsenal’s ‘19th man’ and sit among the substitutes but a snub was a snub.
A year later he fared slightly better when he got a cameo run-out in the same showpiece at Wembley.
But now, after two failed attempts, it could be third time lucky for Oxlade-Chamberlain when the Gunners face Chelsea tomorrow.
Arsenal’s late-season injury crisis and a recent switch to a 3-4-3 formation means there is every chance the 23-year-old will finally take centre-stage beneath the arch when they face the Premier League champions.
“Being in the starting line-ups, the national anthems, all of that — obviously that’s what I’d love to do — start the game and play the whole game,” he said.
“Team selection is tough. Hector has been doing really well at right wing back but who knows where I could play? I could play elsewhere but that’s up to the boss.
“As long as the team that goes out there puts in everything and gets the right result I’ll be just as happy as every single other Arsenal fan.”
He was reduced to the role of fan in 2014 when Wenger decided against selecting him against Hull.
He watched on from the bench as the London club overturned an early 2-0 defecit to win their first trophy for nine years via an enthralling 3-2 victory.
But he still remembers his pain at being left out, despite returning from a small injury a week before the final.
“The 2014 final I even missed out on being involved on the bench,” he recalled. “I was upset and gutted about that because I’d played a big role moving into the final and throughout the whole competition.
“I was really disappointed to miss out but once the game started I was right in among the boys still and we went 2-0 down quite early on and to bring it back, all the disappointing feelings went out of the window.
“Then in the 2015 final, I think I played five minutes. I came on right at the end and the game was already done but just to come on and be involved was a really nice moment for me missing out completely the year before.”
It looked as though he may even miss this one too, after sustaining a hamstring injury earlier this month which kept him out of three matches. But, after training well this week, he is in contention to start.
“It’s a bit of a trend,” he said with a smile. “When it happened, I thought, ‘Oh no, here we go again’.
“It’s obviously not ideal but that’s what we deal with week in, week out. The manager has tough decisions to make. When you pick up injuries, you put yourself to the bottom of the pile for a bit and you have to work your way back up.
“That’s what’s happened in recent years. When I picked up this injury, I tried to hit the ground running as quickly as I could and set out a plan that gave me the best opportunity to put myself in contention.
“I’ve carried that out, spoke to the manager about my return and he was happy about it. That’s all I can do, I’m in that place now, the squad selection is down to him and I respect whatever decision he makes.”
When he arrived at Arsenal from Southampton in 2011, then-17-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain was considered one of the brightest prospects in European football.
However he has struggled to fully establish himself as a regular starter under Arsene Wenger and is still yet to start more than 17 Premier League games in a single season since his arrival.
His 29 appearances so far this term represent the best return of his Arsenal career and his versatility has been vital for the club this season as he has operated on the right wing, as a holding midfielder and now as a right wing-back.
He added: “To have been available for most of the games in all competitions, that’s definitely a step forward for me in my career.
“I’m feeling good. Once I picked up the injury, the main focus was to get back for the final. I’ve put myself in contention and that’s all I can do.”
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