Sunday, June 16, 2024

Jury out for Chambers

Few Arsenal careers in recent times have been more durable than that of Calum Chambers. Calum is completing his seventh season as an Arsenal player, taking in two loan spells at relegated clubs and an anterior cruciate ligament injury. His loan spells at Middlesbrough and Fulham were solid but not spectacular and he has never truly commanded a first team spot at Arsenal.

Chambers sits in that slightly unwieldly Ainsley Maitland Niles sweet spot where his versatility makes him a valuable squad member but does little to accelerate his personal growth. His performances at centre-half, right-back and, at Fulham, in central midfield have been enough to make one cock an eyebrow in acknowledgment but little more. In short, he has proven himself to be competent.

However, his Arsenal race really did look run when he ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in January 2020, just one week into Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal reign. Given that David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Hector Bellerin were all at the club with William Saliba waiting in the wings and Cedric Soares added that same month, there seemed to be little way back for Chambers.

However, this is an Arsenal career that just refuses to die. It’s like one of those annoying horror movie scenes when the protagonist strikes the villain across the head with a rolling pin just the once, before dropping the weapon to the floor and turning their back on the assailant. ALWAYS MAKE SURE, DICKHEADS!

With Hector Bellerin and Cedric Soares on the books, I don’t think any of us predicted that Chambers would finish the season as the first choice right-back. Now Hector’s Arsenal career is lying motionless and bloodstained on the kitchen floor while the signing of Cedric Soares increasingly looks like a drunken flirty text message that seemed like a good idea after eight pints but less so the morning after.

Chambers has one year left on his Arsenal contract. Bellerin’s Arsenal goose is cooked (an analogy I am sure he won’t appreciate) and Cedric is 3rd choice right-back at best and probably about seventh choice in terms of left-backs now. Suddenly, it looks likely that Chambers will win his third Arsenal contract.

In an ideal world, I am sure that Arteta would like to severe ties with Bellerin and Cedric, to procure a first choice right-back and have Chambers as his back up. This is all assuming that Ainsley Maitland-Niles will make his Arsenal exit permanent this summer. I have my doubts that Cedric Soares will be easy weight to move.

Let’s face it, he willingly signed a four-year deal on the understanding that he would be a utility player. I doubt that he came into this situation blind, he won’t want to give up the nice contract that Arsenal have furnished him with and I can’t see many clubs queuing up to match the three years he has left on his Arsenal deal.

It begs the question as to whether the club have tied themselves to Cedric and might have to allow Chambers to leave as a more saleable asset. The homegrown rule complicates this scenario further as Calum counts towards Arsenal’s allocation of homegrown players- which will be especially important if Maitland-Niles, Nelson and even Willock leave this summer.

Perhaps it is worth looking at what Arteta values in Chambers at right-back. The manager initially took a shine to Maitland-Niles in the role in the early weeks of his reign and this is because Arteta wants his right-back to tuck inside a little and play as both a third central midfielder and a third centre-back depending on the phase of play.

Chambers has experience as both a right-sided centre-half and a central midfielder and he understands how to fill those spaces. He also adds height in the area when defending the back post. Bellerin’s Arsenal career has been ended by Kieran Tierney, more or less. Hector is a similar type of overlapping full-back to Tierney and you can’t have two of those without consequences on the counter-attack.

While not the quickest player, Chambers isn’t slow to get forward and he has excellent delivery from the right flank when he does overlap. A favoured Arsenal move is the quick switch from left to right to find Chambers, who has a real knack for clean first-time delivery on the volley.

Chambers’ excellent delivery was a feature of Arsenal’s 3-3 draw with West Ham in March where he created two of the goals with low, firm crosses from the right. It is entirely fair to say that Calum’s delivery is superior to both Bellerin and Cedric. Defensively, I would worry about Chambers with space behind him. While he can sprint in straight lines well enough he is not as convincing on the turn.

Strangely, the extent to which Jefferson Montero took him apart at right-back in a match that happened six-and-a-half years ago has really imprinted itself onto the Arsenal consciousness but it is difficult to recall too many other defensive aberrations from him in the position. Besides which, the point of his role at right-back is that he is rarely exposed in this manner because his role is much more focused on tucking into midfield.

I would understand the sense of ennui from Arsenal fans were Chambers to sign a new deal this summer. We all want to see the squad refreshed (witness the complete indifference to the announcement of David Luiz’s departure this summer) and Chambers is a player Arsenal have had the opportunity to cash in on a few times.

I understand and subscribe to the idea that the club has to get better at moving players on who have value and are not going to push the club to the next level and that we need to stop putting so much stock in “back up” players. However, ennui and boredom are not necessarily good reasons to move a player on and it doesn’t follow that every single situation should be treated the same.

I think there are two main questions when it comes to a decision over a new deal for Chambers. Can Cedric be moved on? If he can’t, it would represent a waste of resources to have three right-backs and neither is really a totally convincing first-choice option if Arsenal are serious about leaving the midtable doldrums behind.

The second question is how sustainable Chambers’ form at right-back is? He looked very good there in the opening months of his Arsenal career before “the Montero incident.” Is there a weakness that opponents will expose just after the ink dries on a four-year deal? Arteta has a habit of sticking with players who are in-form and keeping them in the team until the embers die out.

He did something similar with Shkodran Mustafi who played reasonably well until he reverted to type. There is an arch irony in the fact that Bellerin’s emergence was exactly what curtailed Chambers’ career as a right-back in 2014. Arsenal also had Mathieu Debuchy in the squad during that season.

Hell, Arsenal have even bought another right-back from Southampton since then and Chambers, who now has 200 career appearances, might just outlast all of them in an Arsenal shirt. It’s a remarkable story really but Arsenal must always remember the principle of offering players new contracts, contracts are not a reward for what you have done in the past but what you are expected to add in the future. That is the decision Arsenal must make over Calum Chambers.

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