The Case for Calum Chambers as Arsenal’s Starting Right-Back
It is no secret that Arsenal are amid a complete squad rebuild- after finishing 8th last season’s, the front office went into the summer transfer window with quite a substantial amount business to get done. As the transfer window presses on, the lack of substantial rumors regarding an incoming right-back signals there is an increased likelihood that Calum Chambers will be Arsenal’s starting right back this season. While some would say that right-back is a pressing need for Arsenal, and should be addressed in this transfer window, Chambers’ performances at the end of the season showed he is a capable right back for the upcoming season.
The 26-year-old first signed as a center back in 2014 but was unable to consistently lock down a starting role and spent two years on loan to Middlesbrough and Fulham. At Fulham, Chambers played as a defensive midfielder, winning Fulham’s player of the season award, showing his positional versatility- now proving to be an asset for Mikel Arteta.
Back in 2019, Mikel Arteta selected Chambers at center back, in Arteta’s second game in charge- signaling the manager thoughts on the player from the beginning. Unfortunately for Chambers, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, side-lining him for the better part of a year.
Last season, Chambers returned to the starting lineup in a surprise appearance at right back against Burnley on 6 March. Since that appearance, he turned in a Man-Of-The-Match performance in the 3-3 draw against Aston Villa, and solidified himself as the starting right back for the remainder of the season.
Chambers does not have the physical traits of a modern full-back, as he lacks the necessary pace and agility often required to defend against Premier League wingers and is unlikely to play quick one-twos effortlessly around the box. However, he has compensated for this with his technical and positional ability both on and off the ball.
Despite these limitations, Chambers has shown an ability to contribute significantly in the final third. Rather than pushing forward and overlapping on the right side, Chambers often stays slightly deeper which allows him to utilize his exceptional crossing ability from deep to keep the opposition pinned back. His crossing technique allows him to play the ball first time, which keeps the flow of the Arsenal attack ongoing. Chambers had three assists last season in all competitions, and per fbref.com is in the 96th percentile for assists per 90 for fullbacks. Sample-size caveats aside- Chambers showed he can play an important part of the attack.
In addition to his direct contributions, Chambers offers balance to the Arsenal attack. When Kieran Tierney bombs down the left side, Chambers can tuck into the midfield and provide additional defensive stability and shape. In his short stint at right back, Chambers has developed a good relationship with Saka and Pepe ahead of him. This relationship will be critical next season, as Arsenal will need to get the best out of both to successfully push higher up the table.
While Hector Bellerin was at right-back, Nicolas Pepe often struggled to find his place in the attack. Bellerin loves to overlap, which caused Pepe to often drop slightly deeper and further out wide to give Bellerin space. With Chambers at right back, Pepe can challenge defenders directly in the box where he is most effective and dangerous.
There has been speculation that Cedric Soares is also in contention for the starting spot when Arsenal travel to Brentford after impressing the coaching staff in pre-season. However, Soares was completely frozen out by Arteta at the end of last season, having not made an appearance in any of the final ten league fixtures. These reports of Soares’ pre-season performances may just be the club trying to drum up interest as they look to potentially move on from Soares this window.
The Arsenal front office is faced with a tremendous challenge to turn Arsenal into a winning squad again, a rebuild that is not going to be fixed in one transfer window. While fans are hopeful for significant upgrades at each position of need- it is unrealistic, and potentially detrimental, to introduce more than two or three new starters to the first team. While Chambers is not the solution long-term at right back, he showed last season that he is certainly a capable right back, and at the minimum the best option currently available to Arteta. If Arsenal do sign a new first team right back, no one would argue it filling a position of need. However, if not, then the club are smart to prioritize more influential and pressing matters in the squad.