If you had told any Arsenal fan at the end of last season that we would start the season with Calum Chambers at centre back, they would have thought that you were crazy or that Arsenal had had a disastrous transfer window. Having spent last season on loan at Fulham, Chambers Arsenal career was largely believed to be coming to an end. Arsenal were linked with various central defenders around Europe and Chambers spent much of this Summer being linked with a move away from the Emirates, either being sold to help Arsenal finance their own signings or being used as a make-weight in a possible deal for Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace.
However, after the surprise exit of Laurent Koscielny and Arsenal’s inability to get a deal done for a centre half until deadline day Chambers was not only kept at the club but granted an opportunity to start Arsenal’s opener and the 24-year old grabbed his opportunity with both hands. A very accomplished display at St. James’ Park on Sunday has led to people asking the question, can Chambers carry this form on and become a regular starter for Unai Emery at the back?
Chambers was a breakout star for Arsenal in the 2014/15 season following his £16 million move from Southampton. Much like his start at Newcastle last weekend, he got his chance in 2014 because of a number of injuries to key players at the back for Arsenal. Playing at both right back and centre back, the then-teenager looked mature far beyond his years. He took the step up from Southampton to Arsenal in his stride, impressing so much in his first season at the Emirates that he earned an England call up from Roy Hodgson, making his international debut in September 2014 against Norway. This form, early in his Arsenal career and at such a young age had Chambers being tipped for big things both at club and international level.
Unfortunately for Chambers, his career has not followed the trajectory expected early in his days at Arsenal. Following the 2014/15 season, Chambers subsequently fell out of favour under Arsene Wenger due to Hector Bellerin’s emergence at right-back, competition from the more experienced pair of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker and the signing of Shkodran Mustafi. In hindsight after watching Mustafi during his Arsenal career, perhaps having faith in the Englishman and giving him time to develop in the side may have been the wiser decision.
Chambers has since had two, season-long loans in the Premier League to gain experience and regain the confidence he had when he arrived at Arsenal. Despite suffering relegation in his two loan spells away from the club, Chambers impressed at Middlesbrough in the 2015/16 season and at Fulham last season, picking up their Player of the Year award. After returning from Fulham at the end of last season, the prevailing theory surrounding Chambers was that he would be sold in the transfer window to clear room for whatever reinforcements the club was able to bring in at the back but this is no longer the case for the English defender.
Watching him Sunday, comfortably winning his battle with Newcastle’s £40 million record signing, Joelinton, it was clear to see that his loan spells have done the world of good for Chambers. He was composed on the ball, coped well physically with the imposing figure of Joelinton, which has long been a criticism of his game and didn’t put a foot wrong positionally helping Arsenal to a 1-0 away win and impressing his manager with Emery saying of Chambers: “Really, last year for Calum Chambers was a very good year because he played all the matches with Fulham. They played him as a centre-back in a three, in a two and they played him as a midfielder. From pre-season, he deserved to play today in the first XI and he was very focused and with Sokratis was also very serious”
The key to Calum Chambers becoming a major player for Unai Emery I feel lies in his versatility. His ability to play at centre back, right back and even holding midfield, where he played a lot of games for Fulham last season should see Chambers get a lot of game time this season. As well as being able to play in a number of positions across the back and midfield, Chambers also has experience in playing in a number of different systems. Fulham at times last season opting for a three at the back, where Chambers was utilized in various ways. He showed he is more than capable to play in a back four at St. James’ Park on Sunday but I think he is best suited to playing in a three.
The signing of David Luiz has led to a lot of speculation that Arsenal will adopt a three at the back system, where Luiz excelled for Chelsea in their title-winning campaign under Antonio Conte. Chambers would be perfectly suited to play as the right-centre back in this system. His ability to step out of defence with the ball, his pace helping him to deal with wingers as well as centre forwards and his positional sense give him the perfect attributes to feature in this system. Particularly in big games, where last season, Unai Emery leaned more towards playing three at the back to give the side more defensive stability, Chambers looks a much better, more solid option than what Arsenal had to choose from last season.
While it is only the first game of the season so the possibility of being a prisoner of the moment is there, Chambers certainly looked very accomplished at Newcastle on Sunday and in many people’s eyes, outperformed his centre back partner, Sokratis. He will face stiff competition in the coming weeks to retain his place in the side with Rob Holding returning from his long-term knee injury as well as David Luiz being integrated into the side. With Arsenal’s rigorous schedule this season, with Europa League commitments as well as League Cup and FA Cup, a big squad is a requirement and there are sure to be lots of opportunities to impress.
Tougher tests lie ahead for Chambers and Arsenal as Newcastle lacked cutting edge and any real threat in Sunday’s opener but this was certainly a positive start. Already equalling the club’s away clean sheet tally from last season, Arsenal will look to take the same defensive solidity into next week’s home opener against Burnley. Chambers will be expected to retain his place in the starting XI at the Emirates next Saturday despite David Luiz being more settled in after his Deadline Day move to the club. While he may not be a starter week in and week out for Arsenal, through his pre-season performances and last weekend he has most certainly made himself a viable option for Arsenal at the back this season. Should he be able to continue this form, he will definitely feature heavily for Arsenal and Emery.