It wouldn’t be an Arsenal transfer window without the signing of a promising youngster, and it seems like Southampton have been the preferred talent orchard to pick from when it comes to English talent. Having brought both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from St Mary’s to the Emirates stadium, Arsène Wenger has this time turned his attention to defence and signed the young Englishman, Calum Chambers.
The defender’s arrival was met with a rather positive reaction compared to what it could have been had Arsenal not signed Alexis Sanchez, Debuchy and Ospina beforehand. With a price tag of £16million at 19 years old, most fans seemed to see the signing as a ‘good’ one, but without knowing much about Chambers and the qualities he has, bar catching the odd Southampton game on telly perhaps. One thing that Gooners have been told by the manager is that Chambers is capable of playing in three different positions: right back, centre back and defensive midfield. But it is not his versatility that is currently capturing my eye, it is the qualities he possesses that make him look an ideal long-term replacement for Per Mertesacker.
Two of Mertesacker’s best attributes are his composure and intelligence (essential to reading the game) and these qualities make up for what the German lacks in pace and quickness of turn. Chambers also demonstrates a level of composure beyond his years and Arsène Wenger has said as much. From what I saw at both the Emirates Cup and the Community Shield, Chambers also shown that he too can read the game well and was often covering for an advanced Bellerín or Debuchy, which is no doubt down to his knowledge of the right back role. However, in some cases, this can also be interpreted as risky or bad positioning and even though the Englishman is more mobile than his German teammate, he is not exceptionally fast and must be wary of being caught out. Having said that, if he does begin to emerge as a centre back rather than a right back or defensive midfielder, working on position-specific aspects of his game coupled with experience, should see him iron out such mistakes.
Another role which Mertesacker plays in this Arsenal side is ‘ball-holder’, if you will. Match statistics often show Per as having a lot of touches and a high level of ball retention. This may seem simple and rather mundane, but it’s essential for there to be a go-to man if there is a lack of openings and the midfield needs to re-find space. I noticed Chambers handling possession comfortably and moving the ball efficiently, even looking to play the occasional long ball if there were limited options. Usually, Arsenal aren’t ones for ‘pumping’ the ball up field, but with new boy Alexis and the emerging Campbell in addition to existing pace in Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott, it’s a viable alternative option.
Leadership is something that Mertesacker has become renowned for, so much so that he was most Arsenal fans’ pick to become the new captain following Vermaelen’s departure to Barcelona. Alas, Per will have to settle for vice and Arteta was duly given the armband. Returning to my point, there is no doubt that Mertesacker’s leadership qualities and organisational skills are mainly down to experience, and experience is something that Chambers currently lacks. Despite this, Calum still demonstrates the assertiveness and awareness of an organiser and, quite rightly, doesn’t let his age or short time spent at the club stop him barking orders to teammates. His time as captain of England’s U19s side has certainly helped in that respect. Eventually, I can see Chamber’s maturing into a very competent and intelligent defensive leader.
Having been named Arsenal’s man of the match in the Community Shield against Manchester City, Chambers has already begun to assert himself on the pitch and build a relationship with the Arsenal fans. Arsène Wenger also seems suitably impressed with Chambers’ performances thus far, which may prompt him to utilise the 19 year-old in rotation with Mertesacker this season. If that is the case, it’s plausible that Per may take Calum under his wing and pass on some of that aforementioned experience. In the long run, it is arguable that Chambers could in fact surpass Mertesacker in terms of ability and variation as a defender. His superior mobility and wider range of passing are indicators that he could become not only an intelligent and composed centre back who can read the game well, but also a ball-playing centre back with enough pace and strength to warrant ball-carrying, although preferably not Vermaelen-esque marauding into unfamiliar territory.
It’s still early days for Chambers, but his Premier League experience with Southampton may prove vital in progressing quicker than most other defenders his age. If he can stay focused and injury-free, there’s no reason why, when the time comes, he can’t be a more than adequate heir to Per’s throne in the centre of Arsenal’s defense.