How Calum Chambers can be a long-term solution to Arsenal’s defensive woes
If you’re a supporter of London’s ‘finest’ Arsenal Football Club, it’s fair to say that you have experienced some form of frustration, irritation, or simply annoyance during the yearly summer transfer window. A period designed to allocate every football club the opportunity to strengthen their side ahead of the new league season, Arsenal seemingly never utilise this period to its full advantage.
For years, many have claimed that the North London side was just one or two players away from achieving Premier League glory. Recent transfer windows have reflected this statement, as a lack of marquee signings have made a consequential impact towards an apparent downfall of a once highly-prominent football club.
Following a poor season where they finished fifth in the Premier League table, a position the Gunners had not been in since Bruce Rioch was the manager for the 1995/96 season, times were finally looking bright again for the club to try and make a statement in the league and European competition.
In came key personnel such as Jens Lehmann and new fitness coach Darren Burgess whilst sub-standard positions in the team were quickly strengthened. Sead Kolasinac was brought in for free following the expiration of his contract at Schalke and prolific forward Alexandre Lacazette was purchased for a club-record fee which could rise to £52 million.
Despite these initial glimpses of positivity, the Gunners still find themselves a few players short of mounting a genuine title challenge. A lack of accomplished depth proves this, as this absence of quality in each position on the pitch has been known to play an impact in the downfall of each Premier League season.
Rather than have suitable options in the squad to make an impact, a considerable number of players do not possess the same quality as those selected in the first team.
Presently, Arsenal find themselves in a position where making such amendments to the first team is a difficult task. A majority of “deadwood” players are unwilling to trade life at the top with a substantial wage for new pastures at a smaller club. With the current squad consisting of more than 30 players, Arsenal’s transfer business has significantly decelerated as they are forced to free up wages and positions before entering the market again.
Any fan of the club could advocate a variety of positions that need to be strengthened in, particularly in defence and midfield and it seems important that the signing of a top midfielder should be prioritised at this late stage while current defensive options are awarded new opportunities
Following a humiliating run of form midway through last season, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger made the important decision to change the side’s formation into an attacking 3-4-2-1 system that went on to save his career at the club. The transition proved to be a saving grace, allowing Arsenal to win the FA Cup whilst also allowing players like Nacho Monreal and the aforementioned Rob Holding to flourish.
While the system has proven effective for around 15 games, it still lacks the necessary quality and depth to be a driving force in Premier League and European competition, particularly in the libero role. This is where Calum Chambers comes in.
To some, the term libero, otherwise known as a sweeper, might sound strange and confusing. To summarise, the libero is deployed in the heart of the defence, taking up the free role in the middle and is mainly used to initiate attacks from deep through long balls, or by carrying the ball into the midfield. Chelsea defender David Luiz perfected this role last season as the Blues went on to win the Premier League trophy.
While he has never been fully tested in this role, Chambers possesses traits that would allow him to flourish here. However, his versatility would also enable him to prosper as a right centre-back or in a more comfortable two-man defensive partnership in a four-man defence. Before being able to deliver consistently for the first team, time, effort, and experience are necessary for such development.
The 22-year-old’s passing ability is undoubtedly one of his biggest traits, being able to pick out a pass regardless of its distance. However, his overall distribution of the ball needs improvement, to an extent, as the accuracy of his passes can be considerably improved upon. On loan at Middlesbrough, the Englishman attempted 174 long balls but only had an accuracy rate of 61%, while his overall pass accuracy was 77%.
In comparison to the likes of David Luiz, and other players who could flourish in such a role like Southampton's Virgil van Dijk, the numbers regarding the pass completion is rather intriguing.
When it came to comparing long ball accuracy, Chambers was far more accurate than the former at 53%, whilst Southampton's Dutch defender was similarly accurate at around 61%. Nevertheless, where the English international flounders is his all-inclusive exactness when it comes to passing. Both of the previously mentioned established defenders were substantially more accurate when passing, each maintaining an 84% pass succession across the entirety of last season.
Playing for a club like Arsenal, especially under Arsene Wenger, both the possession and movement of the ball are crucial in the Frenchman’s ideal philosophy. Chambers quite clearly has the capability to be a ball-playing defender, but the precision of his passes must be tweaked before performing consistently in the libero role.
In comparison to more experienced personnel at the club, the defender’s completion rate is considerably lower. Last season, vice-captain Laurent Koscielny maintained a passing rate of 87%, Monreal’s pass completion was around 85%, and Shkodran Mustafi had an accuracy of 82%.
This ability has been proven on sporadic occasions during his loan stint at Middlesbrough but has been inconsistent. For example, the 22-year-old played well for the Boro during an important 0-0 draw against Watford away last season. Despite lacking in possession, the defender was able to help his side to a clean sheet, and also averaged a much better pass accuracy of 87%.
Playing for a club the size of Middlesbrough in the Premier League, showcasing defensive abilities proved to be a difficult task. For example, against stronger opponents in Liverpool, a game they lost 3-0 on the final day of the season, Chambers only maintained a poor completion rate of 50%. However, when looking at it in close detail, the Englishman rarely got the ball to his feet, only attempting 16 passes in the 90 minutes played.
Another way in which Chambers can thrive is through his ability to drag the ball out of defence and building up play from deep. Whilst liberos are usually known to bombard the ball forward, they can also dribble their way into the midfield to commence a potential attack. This is something that the 22-year-old is known to do, but has typically done so when playing as a right-back rather than a central defender; where the passing channels are limited.
In regards to potential improvements, one of the most important ways in which the English international must quickly prosper is through his lacklustre ability in duels. Despite having a strong build, the defender often finds himself losing battles whether on the floor or in the air, averaging a successful win rate of 49%. This is certainly an issue, as in these duels, it would often allow the opposition to gain possession of the ball and mount an attack, or a chance at goal.
In last season's 2-1 loss to Manchester United, this liability was displayed as Chambers often struggled against the Red Devils' attack. The English international often found himself mistiming tackles, and even got a yellow card for a foul on Anthony Martial.
If the defender ever finds himself in a predicament where he is the last man in defence, or the ball is coming towards him from a cross or corner, he must learn how to win such duels to prevent the opposition scoring. Depending on how the duel plays out, the Englishman could proceed to distribute the ball out and mount a counter attack on the opponents.
Chambers interception of play would certainly be tested out in the middle, taking into consideration that he would be responsible for clearing key passes and opportunities from the opposition. Depending on how this plays out, the defender could proceed to start a counter attack and use his passing ability if necessary to offload the ball to an attacking player. Last season, the Englishman averaged two interceptions per game across the entirety of his season with Middlesbrough.
As previously noted, the former Southampton player could also adjust into Arsenal’s current system as a right centre-back. With the wing-back on the right flank, usually Hector Bellerin or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, known to position themselves further up the pitch, Chambers can provide cover when defending and also link up with them when starting up a new attack.
With Arsenal playing in the Europa League, FA Cup, and, Carabao Cup next season, the amount of opportunities awarded to youngster should not be underestimated and used to full advantage. Whilst the current defensive options are accomplished, looking long-term quite clearly puts the London club far behind from major rivals.
Per Mertesacker retires in just under a year, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal are ageing, and Rob Holding is yet to prove himself worthy of having the sufficient quality needed to play for a club the size of Arsenal on a regular basis.
Calum Chambers is a highly talented defender that needs the relevant experience and playing time to reach the top level required. With limited top options in defence, the uprising of the Englishman could prove momentous for the long-term, especially with the lack of movement in the current transfer market.