Are you scratching your heads after reading the title? Or do you think yours truly has completely gone off the rails and thinks Bielik is ready for the step-up?
In fact the answer is much simpler – and it doesn’t involve a 17-year-old to making a breakthrough anytime soon. Though I’ve heard reports about him being at a more advanced stage than most people tend to think, I doubt he’ll feature much in the next couple of years. By the time he’s ready, not only Arteta’s legs but the Spaniard in his entirety would have left the Emirates.
I’m talking about an internal solution, one which has been staring us in the face for some time now, yet one we never considered. Simply put, it has flown under the radar. The solution’s name is Calum Chambers.
At this point people are probably furiously searching for torches and pitchforks on Amazon with the sole intention of heading to where I reside with the said items. Chambers, you say? The right-back who is not a right-back, whose form dipped, who barely featured in the second half of the season? Who is now 4th-choice centre-back and who, according to the majority, has been a flop, wasted money? Yes, him.
Here’s my unpopular opinion: Calum can and will excel at either centre-back or defensive midfield. At both if we are lucky. I think he is the long-term answer to replacing Mertesacker, yet he could also become a long-term solution to our ongoing DM conundrum.
Calum probably lacks the attributes to be a modern full-back. He is not Bellerin-fast lightning-fast, his crossing ability is not at it’s highest & he has sometimes been found wanting in one-on-one situations against a pacy winger.
At the same time he greatly reminds me of both Arteta and Mertesacker. His game is not about speed: it’s about intelligence; he may not possess the physical attributes to outmuscle his opponents: but he can be effective at shadowing them and intercepting the ball. Finally, he is a good distributor from the back and is cool under pressure. He is good at getting out of tight spots, sometimes he is unnervingly good, almost at Cazorla’s level.
They say the first impression sticks and my first impression of the guy is an overwhelmingly positive one: Community Shield game and the matches that followed in the month of August. During that period Chambers played at centre-back, paired with Koscielny. It was more circumstance than design: Mertesacker still hasn’t returned from his World Cup winning escapades. Vermaelen has left and Debuchy was playing at right-back.
So Calum slotted in at centre-back and became out stand-out performer against City, Palace & Besiktas. At the end of the month he looked less sharp (which I put down to playing alongside Mertesacker, who has a very similar playstyle), before being shortly consigned to the bench in September, until Debuchy did his ankle in.
Nonetheless even Arsenal fans were impressed with Calum so much they voted him as the Player of August. Comparisons with Tony Adams were flying around, people were running out of superlatives for Chambers’ composure and maturity in hard situations. Chambers himself was deputising at right-back, a position he was initially bought for. September, October, November – 12 straight games at right back in all competitions. He was playing alongside an under-par Per Mertesacker and at some point also Monreal, who was standing in for an injured Koscielny.
Chambers’s performances at right-back were less spectacular than his earlier outings at centre-back. Yet he was quietly consistent, doing an insane amount of work at a new team – in short, too much was asked of a 19-year-old. Then came the Swansea game. Poor Calum was repeatedly roasted by Montero, but there was no one we could replaced him with – Debuchy was still injured and Bellerin was yet to emerge as a potent force.
Suddenly Calum was scorched by the Arsenal faithful. Was it just one game, that night at the Liberty Stadium? I think it was. I do not recall him seriously underperforming up to this point. Fortunately, Debuchy recovered soon after and Chambers was taken out of the firing line. Bellerin made his grand entrance on January 11th when the unluckiest man to ever walk this Earth (apart from Diaby), Debuchy, was cynically shoved into the advertising boards by Arnautovic.
Calum took a back seat once again, making a substitute appearance here and there. However when he did come on as a sub, he did grand – just think back how he adapted during the Newcastle game, or his performance at Old Trafford in the cup when we had to take Bellerin off so that the ref wouldn’t take him off (God bless you, Michael Oliver, by the way).
Calum finished the season quietly, not even making the bench for the FA Cup final. I’m sure that’s what Wenger wanted:
“For a 19-year-old player, he has played too many games. They all hit the wall after 15, 17 games. You have to give them a breather, refresh and get them back again. At the moment, to have that responsibility in every single game is a lot on a player of that age.”
This is what Arsene Wenger said at the end of December, after our 2-2 draw against Liverpool. By that time Chambers was struggling in the earnest, having played the full 90 minutes in 7 games out of 8 (following the Swansea match), one of which was basically a dead rubber game against Galatasaray. He really was found wanting only once: against Stoke, after receiving a harsh second yellow, but then our entire team struggled on that night at Britannia Stadium.
So, what now for Calum Chambers? All we know is that he reported for training early, keen to pin down a regular spot on the team. His path at centre-back looks quite crowded, however: Wenger hinted Gabriel will feature more, Mertesacker is still our captain (though I get the feeling he’ll be slowly phased out of the team this coming season) and there are rumours flying around we are after another centre-back: Howedes confirmed Arsenal was interested, we apparently bid for Rugani. Calum will have his work cut out to play at centre-back.
But the DM position looks less vied for. Sure, Coquelin will play most games, but a) he won’t play ALL games b) sometimes we need a better passer in the middle of the park. Remember how Arsene took off Coquelin against Monaco away and Swansea at home to enhance our passing ability? Then he started Cazorla in that deep role altogether against Sunderland.
Simply put, we don’t have a Coq-of-all-trades. Sometimes we are better off with an Arteta-esque midfielder – a slick passer, one who contributes to our build-up play. Of course, there’s a small matter of Arteta himself sticking around for at least one more year – but I still feel Chambers will get his chance at DM, maybe in the cups and such. There’s reason to believe Wenger will try Chambers there (as he himself said back in August):
“I believe he can play in defensive midfield and that’s where I see him.”
Unless he changed his mind, of course.