Chambers Returns - A Look at What he can Bring to Arsenal
By Rob Worthington (Deputy Editor)
When Mikel Arteta named Calum Chambers in his lineup to face Burnley, the decision was met with a fair amount of surprise by the Arsenal faithful. The English defender had started just once since this season prior to Saturday, that game being Arsenal’s final Europa League group stage match away at Dundalk. A nothing game.
Thus, when Arteta elected to play Chambers against Burnley, it was very much an out of the blue choice.
Many pointed to the role Aymeric Laporte played for Manchester City against Burnley a few weeks ago. The French central defender who has operated as a make-shift left-back periodically in his career featured as a full-back that day. Perhaps Arteta was taking a leaf from Pep Guardiola’s book.
On numerous occasions, Chambers has not only affirmed that centre-back is his preferred role, but the Englishman has also regularly looked most comfortable in such a role for Arsenal. He featured at right-back a few times last season under Unai Emery, but he was very much an emergency candidate, and after nailing down a spot at centre-back upon Mikel Arteta’s appointment, Chambers likely felt his time as right-back was over.
However, as time has passed with Mikel Arteta as manager of Arsenal, the instructions ascribed to whoever has started at right-back have become all the more unconventional. Many a time, Hector Bellerin has been seen underlapping and drifting into midfield rather than providing a wide option for the forward ahead of him.
Such instructions could in fact suit Chambers. Firstly, the 26-year-old has never been blessed with natural pace so has never been the overlapping sort. And arguably more importantly, the midfielding aspect of Arteta’s right-back role could well suit a man who enjoyed the best season of his career operating in the engine room for Fulham in 18/19.
On Saturday, the obvious reason for Chambers’ selection was his aerial ability. On frequent occasion this year, Hector Bellerin has been targeted by opponents for his lack of presence in the air. With Chambers being a natural centre-back, willing to attack the ball, that issue was nullified. He won 5 headers at Turf Moor, only bettered by Pablo Mari’s 7.
Going forward, this could indeed be helpful against more physical opponents. That’s not to say Chambers is a flawless player, teams may not be able to attack him aerially but they’d certainly be wise to play on his lack of agility. However, against teams who adopt a route one approach, the risk of such issues being exposed lessens.
No doubt, there are questions over Chambers’ ability to operate at right-back with regard to the offensive demands. When he managed to break forward against Burnley, his crosses were very much reminiscent of a hit and hope approach. However, again, Mikel Arteta could look to Pep Guardiola for inspiration to solve such an issue.
When Guardiola starts a player capable of playing as a centre-back at full-back, City often shift into a 3-3-3-1 formation in possession. The player capable of playing centre-back, usually Kyle Walker or less frequently Laporte, tucks into a back three and the opposite full-back, often Oleksandr Zinchenko or Joao Cancelo, moves forward.
Above is a look at how Mikel Arteta could adopt such an approach himself at Arsenal. Kieran Tierney may not quite have the technical quality to operate in midfield in possession, but the likes of Saka and Ødegaard dropping deep would likely make up for the Scot’s shortcomings in that regard. In defence, Calum Chambers would be perfectly suited to a right-centre-back type role.
Chambers thus provides Arsenal the opportunity to be flexible tactically. His ability to tuck in as a third-centre-back means Arteta can add further physical presence in his defence and also free up his starting left-back in an attacking sense. Until the end of the season, and perhaps beyond, he could therefore be a key man for the Gunners.
It’d also be unfair to ignore the fact Chambers could indeed give the likes of David Luiz and Rob Holding a run for their money in central defence. With Luiz set to leave Arsenal this Summer and Holding blowing hot and cold lately, there’s a place up for grabs. Chambers will likely take a while to return to tip-top condition post ACL-tear but he’d doubtless back himself to displace either one of the aforementioned defenders.
With uncertainty at both right-centre-back and right-back in the current Arsenal squad, Calum Chambers has returned to contention at exactly the right time from his point of view. Could he nail down a starting spot until the end of the season? It’s unlikely but not impossible. It’s time for Chambers to prove his worth.