Calum Chambers – Utility Man or Defensive Colossus?

Originally posted on Goonersphere.

Calum Chambers joined Arsenal in the summer of 2014. His transfer at the time was in the same window that a certain Chilean signed on the dotted line, so the English defender in comparison didn’t warrant the same amount of ticker tape, bells and whistles.

His arrival to the club was a positive though. Marked for success from an early age and harking from the same youth system which flowered Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale, Chambers had all the foundations necessary to become a great defender.

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Present day and after a season and a half at Arsenal, Calum Chambers is in transition. His career resembles a chrysalis of sorts. At this current moment in time, it is impossible to say what player will emerge when he does shed the armbands of youth. Thanks to the rigours of modern day football, the demands have shaped the malleable career of Chambers and it is unclear what player will emerge from the aforementioned chrysalis.

Last season, Arsenal’s annual injury crisis meant that all available defenders were required to steady the ship. Bodies were light and Chambers was given a baptism of fire. Thrust into the team early, he relied heavily on the experience of Per Mertesacker when filling in at centre-back – which did no favours for the big German as he babysat Chambers, his concentration on his own role waned – and when he filled in at right-back, it was clear he would only benefit from a more defined position.

There were moments last term that showed he is hewn from far more than just rugged defender stone. The 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund last season in particular was evidence that his footwork and movement could be utilised further up the pitch. Just recently even, his 45minute showing Vs Leicester City after replacing the injured Koscielny was faultless.

  All in all though, Chambers had a solid enough first season to warrant optimism. The only drawbacks were his lack of a discernible position and the odd shaky moment that comes with the inexperience of youth.

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This season has seen more of the same for Chambers. With Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gabriel in the centre, chances at his preferred role were always going to be at a premium. At right-back, ahead of him Arsenal have the Spanish sensation that is Hector Bellerin – a boy who is destined for the very top. Thanks to the Gunners seasonal injury plague, he has found game time though, but at defensive midfield.

It was highlighted last season upon his arrival, that Chambers could possibly play as the midfield shield, thanks to his excellent mobility and distribution. It wasn’t until Francis Coquelin became crocked that Chambers was given a chance to showcase his ability in this spot. His debut in the holding role came as a substitute against Sunderland, but he started his first match in that spot for the win against Bournemouth.

Chambers was assured, with no signs of nerves. His positioning was sound, with no alarming spells of flagrant attacking. He did his job with the minimum of fuss and took his chance well. 

Since then, he has made several more appearances from the bench to shore things up as Arsene Wenger attempts to protect a scoreline. His arrival is a signal that Arsenal are shutting up shop.

Now that Mohamed Elneny has arrived from FC Basel as a defensive midfielder – where does this leave Chambers?

With chances at a premium at centre-back, and with Coquelin and Elneny ahead of him at defensive midfield – will Chambers get the minutes he needs to develop into the player he promises to be?

These are his vital formative years. We have seen the consequence of playing a man at various positions throughout his career and it isn’t pretty – Phil Jones of Manchester United, ladies and gentlemen.

Chambers will have an idea of where he wants to put down roots. He has indicated previously that he sees himself as a centre-back, but Arsene Wenger has a penchant for reinventing a player and with Chambers’s skillset, he could very well forge a fantastic career at defensive midfield or even right-back, especially with the expected departure of Mathieu Debuchy.

This is only his second season. After earning his full England honours however, expectations for him will soon weigh heavy. He needs gametime to progress, and that will mean he will play wherever the team demands him. This may be at the expense of a defined role, but another season learning the demands of a role and sharpening skills that may be of benefit to a centre-back may not be the worst thing to occur.

This will give Chambers an edge. He already has great mobility and footwork. If he develops other skills as a result of playing in the holding role and right-back, then he can only benefit from it.

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There will come a time though, when the threshold nears and he will be either viewed as a centre-back or a utility man that can fill in wherever necessary. Much like a plaster is used to heal all minor wounds, Chambers could be the player that plays when injury bites and numbers are low.

He will be very keen to avoid that and with the talent he has, fans should be too. It would be a huge waste.

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