Analysing an individual player during a team beset by collective failure might not appear to be the best opportunity to praise someone but there are a few players who have displayed some semblance of a consistent performance level throughout the season. While what has been perceived as an attitude problem with some of the new arrivals during the summer in their commitment to the cause there are some that can defy any of those accusations. Initially signed on loan from Arsenal to bolster the defence, Calum Chambers has been one of the few players that has seen their reputation enhanced after the travails of the current season.
New singings often need time to bed into a new environment and style of play but with many of our acquisitions this summer that wasn’t the case, as many arrived too late on into the window to have a thorough pre-season with the rest of the squad. A suspension to Denis Odoi after his red card in the Play-Off Final win and an injury which ruled Tim Ream out of all of pre-season, the start of the campaign left us needing to construct a new centre back pairing for the opening day of the season against Palace. The selection of Chambers alongside fellow new recruit Maxime Le Marchand, as well as Joe Bryan at left back, Cyrus Christie at right back and Fabri in goal, in hindsight, doesn’t appear to be the way to build a rigid defensive line. Slav’s consistent rotation amongst the back four through a combination of injuries and an attempt to hit upon a magical formula destabilised the team and in reality makes it difficult to analyse an individual’s performances.
Chambers was regularly brought in and out of the team at centre back in the opening nine games of the season and was a surprise selection at right back for the crucial away game at Cardiff on the 20th October. What was a disastrous showing for everyone involved was particularly poor for Chambers, as he was partially at fault for the first half goals of Bobby Reid and Josh Murphy, resulting in substitution at the break. While he may not have been in the first two choices for that spot, Chambers had played this position a lot throughout his career including during the period he broke into the Southampton team. That performance away in Wales, lead many to question the signing of Chambers and he was subsequently dropped from the team for the defeats to Bournemouth and Huddersfield.
The turn in Chambers’ performances came in the final game under the reign of Slav in a 2-0 defeat at Anfield in which we actually performed far better than expected. Selected as a central midfielder to provide more defensive capability in that area of the pitch he impressed as we managed to keep out Liverpool until just before half time, a goal that still stings when we look back at the season as a whole. What proved to be the end of Slav turned into the start of a series of effective displays that have seen Chambers go from a maligned figure to one of our best players this season. It’s fair to say that particular award isn’t a tightly contested field but Chambers has endeared himself with a series of committed and tactically intelligent performances even under the directionless Ranieri.
Changing positions should ultimately be slightly easier for players than it has been in the past as they have, in general, a far greater technical ability that can translate to the fulfilment of multiple roles. Moving from centre back to defensive midfield may also be one of the easier transitions to consider as much of the game is still played in front of you and in the defensive sense you have to be just as concerned about positioning so that players can’t run off you and attack the defence easily. Throughout the first half of the season it was far too easy for teams to do precisely that, as within five passes they could be running purely at a back four that was already severely short of confidence. The obsession of Ranieri to fiddle with the idea of a back three system did slightly expose Chambers for his ability to keep possession reliably in the middle of the pitch. But considering the fundamental structural flaws that system had for our squad, in that it removed the effectiveness of our best players, highlighting an occasional lapse of possession is overly critical.
While the whole campaign in the Premier League has been poor, the clubs’ goal of the season contest will be incredible hotly contested and Chambers has an entry high on the list with his great strike in the comeback win against Brighton. In a game that threatened to launch a survival push – only for our manager to be sacked four games later – he struck a brilliant volley into the net following a corner to spark probably the most enjoyable half of football all season.
Ultimately, Chambers has probably improved his stock this season and hopefully doesn’t look back at his spell by the Thames as something to regret, as the fans have really taken to someone who has shown dedication and skill throughout the majority of the season. Whether he can nail down a regular place at Arsenal next season remains to be seen, but he has done something different to what we would’ve expected and overall been a player that will be remembered fondly.