Calum Chambers won’t face parent club Arsenal when Fulham host the Gunners at Craven Cottage this Sunday, which will at least provide him with some time to reflect on a whirlwind few months.
Chambers, a composed, versatile defender who possesses an excellent passing range, made 24 appearances for Arsenal last season and, following an impressive pre-season campaign under new manager Unai Emery, which saw him start in an unfamiliar central midfield position, he was rewarded with a new contract at the end of July.
It appeared as if the 23-year-old, who joined Arsenal from Southampton in 2014 for £16 million, was set to belatedly become a regular at the Emirates, with Emery publicly expressing his faith in Chambers’ ability.
“I’m delighted Calum has extended his stay with us,” the former Paris Saint-Germain coach enthused. “He played an important role last season and will be part of my plans this season.”
However, a month later, Chambers signed a season-long loan deal with Premier League new boys Fulham, much to the surprise of many supporters.
Indeed, on paper, it was a deal that didn’t make much sense. Arsenal had signed Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund but were left with only Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding and the Greece international as their senior centre-backs.
Konstantinos Mavropanos was expected to head out on loan but Emery decided to keep him as the reserve option alongside Holding, with Laurent Koscielny still recovering from his long-term Achilles injury.
Last season’s impressive performances from Chambers came towards the back end of the campaign, but he also shone in the 3-2 win over Crystal Palace in December, when a solid defensive game against Wilfried Zaha endeared him to the north London faithful.
“He’s done well – he’s more mature,” former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said last season. “[Last year at Middlesbrough] he gained the belief that he has the [requisite] level to play in the Premier League; that he can do it.
“That gives you confidence and from that confidence, you can express your qualities. For Calum Chambers, those qualities are immense.”
Unfortunately, Emery clearly wasn’t sufficiently convinced to hold on to him. The manager qualified his decision to send Chambers out on loan by saying that the defender has a “bright future” and that the spell at Craven Cottage “will be an important part of his development”.
However, after spending the 2016-17 season at Middlesbrough, Chambers understandably assumed that he’d seen the back of loan moves and would, thus, be in a position to push for a regular starting berth in the Gunners’ defence this season.
When asked about playing in central midfield during pre-season, Chambers conceded that he had to improve in several areas, acknowledging that anyone who operates in the engine room needs to learn how to break the opposition lines and kill their press – something that Emery impresses upon the current midfield unit.
However, despite his admirable willingness to embrace a new role, doubts remain over whether Chambers could feasibly force his way into the Arsenal starting 11 as a midfielder, particularly as Lucas Torreira looks increasingly likely to make the position in front of the back four his own.
Chambers’ hopes of establishing himself as a first-choice centre-half look equally bleak, with Holding’s impressive performances in the Carabao Cup and Europa League having solidified his own case for regular game time.
Then there is Mavropanos, who is currently sidelined with a groin injury and may well be sent out on loan himself next season. However, Goal understands he remains confident of eventually becoming a first-team regular at the Emirates.
So, with Sokratis, Mustafi, Koscielny, Holding and Mavropanos as Emery’s senior centre-back options this season, it’s impossible not to wonder whether Chambers really has a “bright future” at Emery’s Arsenal, given how far he has fallen down the pecking order.
Of course, successful spell at Craven Cottage could yet convince Emery of his “immense” qualities.
At the same time, though, it could just easily convince Chambers that four years after arriving at Arsenal as a teenager of enormous promise, he would be better off elsewhere if he is to achieve his obvious potential.