The Right-Back Dilemma: Can Arsenal make do and mend with what they have?
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Arsenal have a lot to do this summer. A full scale rebuild appears to be the target, and with the squad set to return to training tomorrow for pre-season, there is not a lot of time left to assemble this new set of players and nit the pieces together in time for the start of the new campaign.
Moves for Benfica's Nuno Tavares and Anderlecht's Albert Sambi Lokonga are seemingly imminent, whilst Ben White is supposedly close and Manuel Locatelli is firmly on the club's radar. Once Arsenal have settled these issues at centre-back, left-back and central midfield, attentions will surely turn to acquiring a marquee creative midfielder, and perhaps a goalkeeper to compete with and provide adept cover for Bernd Leno. Whether it's financially feasible for Arsenal to do anything further after all of this has been dealt with, we'll have to wait and see, but you'd have to suspect it won't be.
As I said in the piece I alluded to earlier, it may not be realistic to expect Arsenal to even complete all of this aforementioned business..
"Sacrificing a number of these targets may be a realisation Arsenal come to as the weeks progress in this window. Signing this many players in one window is very rare, and when it does happen, it often doesn't see the team hit the ground running.
Additionally, such drastic rebuilds normally require a major sale to fund (Bale, Coutinho, Lukaku) and Arsenal only really possess one player who would qualify for this in Bukayo Saka, and there's no doubt there would be huge reluctance to sanction a deal for the Englishman".
As is the case in every transfer window, every player on the planet that is in a position Arsenal are supposedly targeting is being linked with the club. Ruben Neves, Yves Bissouma, Eduardo Camavinga, Manuel Locatelli, Renato Sanches and Sander Berge are just a handful of names that have been rumoured to be the subject of Arsenal's hunt for a central midfielder. James Maddison, Houssem Aouar, Yari Verschaeren, Emi Buendia, Rodrigo De Paul and Martin Odegaard have all been linked with filling Arsenal's creative void. Aaron Ramsdale, Sam Johnstone, Andre Onana, Mat Ryan and Wojciech Szczesny have all been tipped as potential number ones/twos at the Emirates.
However, one area where very few names have been touted as potential reinforcements is at right-back. Although the likes of Tyler Adams and Zeki Celik have been mentioned at times in the media, there have been very few concrete rumours or reports by reputable journalists about our interest in either. Of course, Arsenal could be keeping their cards close to their chest. Not all deals are public knowledge (shoutout Mat Ryan in January), with the occasional deal emerging out of nowhere right before its completion (shoutout Nuno Tavares this week).
This sort of inherently behind the scenes type deal is very rare, however. If there are virtually no reliable links, and hardly any links at all for that matter, then there is a good chance there genuinely is little interest from Arsenal in a player in this position as of yet. And, again alluding to what I said previously, it may come to the point where it isn't viable for Arsenal to address this area in this particular market.
What does appear certain is that there will be some level of change in this position. Hector Bellerin has been heavily linked with moves away from the club, and there does appear an acceptance from all parties that this departure is inevitable. Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who is an option in this position even if it comes with reluctance from the player himself, is also expected to leave the club this summer. If Arsenal do indeed feel they are unable to recruit a new right-back, we'll be left with Calum Chambers and Cedric Soares to cover this position for at least six months.
So, can Arsenal cope with this pair?
There was a growing consensus amongst Arsenal fans towards the end of the 2020/21 season that Calum Chambers could well be a long-term option as our first choice right-back. The Englishman put together a string of impressive performances in this position towards the backend of the campaign, and ultimately finished it on top of the pecking order in this role.
The former Southampton man demonstrated his technical security, astute passing range and pin point wide deliveries, managing 0.26 assists per 90, ranking him in the 96th percentile for full-backs in Europe's top five leagues in this metric. His expected assists per 90 value of 0.10 puts him in the 67th percentile, whilst his generally excellent passing stats saw him fulfil the inverted full-back role effectively.
However, is this small sample size sufficient enough to suggest this sort of form is sustainable? He was essentially playing for his future at the club, and now this seems all but secured, will he be able to replicate this form next campaign? Are the concerns about his lack of pace against quick wingers all of a sudden forgotten about because of one steady run?
There are certainly question marks, but Chambers does have the attributes to fit the system and fulfil what Mikel Arteta seemingly wants from his right-back. With Kieran Tierney bombing on and providing a constant outlet on the other side, the right-back is often tasked with slotting in centrally and forming an extra man in midfield. This inverted role requires excellent ball retention skills, immaculate positional and spacial awareness and good athleticism. Chambers, mostly, fits this criteria. It may not be the ideal solution, but it might be one Arsenal have to commit to.
As for Cedric Soares deputising the handsome Hampshire born defender, it's something I could live with. Although I infamously dubbed him a 'loser' on the Arsenal Cannon Podcast, he proved at times last season that he could be relatively reliable when called upon. Although in an ideal world he'd be moved on this summer and relieve the club of his draining wages, that ideal world involves Arsenal signing a right-back and Chambers becoming the deputy.
Despite Arteta clearly not rating the Euro 2016 winner all that highly, as shown by the way he essentially demoted him to third choice in both full-back areas at the end of last season, the lack of European football will mean minutes for the second choice in this position will be pretty minimal regardless. Once again in an ideal world, Cedric will not be used all that much next season.
Although I still hold out perhaps overly ambitious hope that Arsenal bring in a marquee established right-back to secure this position for years to come- like Kieran Tierney on the other side- I accept this may well be unrealistic in this market. To answer the question in the title, yes, I think we can just about make do and mend- for now at least.