The departure of Calum Chambers asks more questions than it answers
By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)
Like many Aston Villa arrivals this season, it arrived completely unheralded, without a scrap of fanfare. Like many Arsenal departures this season, it came with its fair share of questions. Ladies and gentleman, Calum Chambers is now a Villain, and for the life of me, I can't make it make sense.
I mean, I'm first and foremost bewildered about why Arteta's management team would ever dream of separating the Premier League's most underrated bromance, between Chambers and his best mate Rob Holding, but there are a host of other reasons Chambers shouldn't be cooling his heels next to a bunch of failed Arsenal targets and Emile Smith Rowe's ghost. Like, actual football reasons.
For one, he provides depth that Arsenal are seriously lacking at the moment, as a contingency program for at least two positions. He's our second-best right-back, can play comfortably across the centre of the defense, and provides an extra option given the loan absences of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Pablo Marí, both of whom have found new stomping grounds in Italy.
And seen through a wider lens, our squad has transformed, in the last 6 months, from a bloated, ineffective group of players to an absolute skeleton crew. We have 21 first team players at the club who have touched a Premier League field, 12 of whom are under the age of 25, and a further two who are 26. Math dictates that 21 players allows us fewer than one replacement at each position, and it's the truth: we only have 3 centre-backs at the club. Chambers should be the fourth.
But now, if one of Gabriel or White gets injured or sent off, Rob Holding is the replacement. If two are unavailable, we rely on Tomiyasu, and that means letting Cedric back into the squad, or playing Tavares out of position. Arteta has looked unlikely to consider a back three this season, and though it could be a viable last-ditch option given the flexibility of Tierney and Tomiyasu, it would also scupper the exciting tactics that have elevated Arsenal to the fight for the Champions League.
Now, I completely understand the greater scheme of the deal. Chambers has 6 months left on his deal, and with reports from both Arsenal and the player's camp stating that the club had no designs on signing an extension for the 27-year-old, he was set to leave at the end of the season. From that perspective, letting him go was an eventuality, but the same is true of both Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah, who are the two strikers current available and likely to play for the Gunners. I can also appreciate the player's possible wishes in the scope of the deal, but I find it difficult to believe that the club Chambers called home for seven years could not convince him to hang on for three more months.
And for what's more, we're selling him to a direct rival. They didn't have the best start to the season, it's true, but Villa have undergone a large uptick in form under Steven Gerrard, and with a rasher of incredibly astute transfers this January, are honestly shaping up as one of the most talented top-to-bottom sides outside of the Big 6. To further augment their depth in the one area they still lack—cover for right-back and centre-back—is a needless move from Arsenal.
It's the latest in a series of deals, and more specifically exits, that align smoothly with Arteta's all-or-nothing mentality: that being, if a player does not fit his current plans, he has no place at the club. But that mentality has reduced our squad size to the point where we have created insecurities without any plans of fixing them, like our problems selecting a midfield because of AFCON. A lack of foresight seems to abound at London Colney at the moment, but where it stems from is anybody's guess.
Because let's be real, there's a very low chance of Arsenal signing another defender this window. The club's first priority is a high-profile striker, with another quality central midfielder not too far behind. Unless we're planing on recalling William Saliba—in which case, I'll start calling this deal a masterstroke, should the Frenchman perform—I simply don't see any upside to Chambers' exit. Sure, there will be a gilt-edged slot in the squad for Saliba next season, but allowing the Petersfield-born defender to leave in the summer window would have created the same opening.
At the end of the day, the deal is done and dusted, and there's nothing more to say, other than a fervent prayer that Mikel Arteta, Edu Gaspar, and the rest of Arsenal's management team have an ace up their sleeves in the next few days. If not, things might start to look a bit dire if Arsenal truly intend to compete for top four. Never say never, though, hey?