When Arsenal win a home tie as comfortably as Sunday’s professional job against Boro, we’re usually talking about how everyone played well, with a few standout performances.
This game was no exception, with reports in most quarters praising Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud, and then acknowledging that everyone else did a decent job.
The trouble is, it’s not actually true – one player had a bit of a shocker.
OK, he hasn’t played in a while so there are bound to be a few signs of rust.
That was evident in Kieran Gibbs’ first few touches too for example, but the elder statesman at full back ironed those out pretty quickly in time to provide the assist for the first goal.
Chambers, on the other hand, had shaky moments throughout the game, caught upfield as his player got in behind him on a number of occasions.
It didn’t cost us anything in this game, but ultimately, this was a home tie against lower league opposition. If you can’t deal with the runs of Albert Adomah, then I’m not really up for watching you get tortured by Eden Hazard.
Of course he’s young, and still in his first season with the club – it’s just a big turnaround from the first few months of his Arsenal career when his stock was sky high and he could do no wrong.
Signed for £15m on the back of a successful season for Southampton, the new Arsenal youngster went straight into the first team for the Community Shield and then his Premier League debut.
Playing alongside Laurent Koscielny, Chambers acquitted himself well, demonstrating confidence and ability on the ball, despite a propensity for picking up yellow cards at a somewhat alarming rate.
A Champions League debut also followed, bringing with it a Man of the Match display.
It was immediately followed by a first England call up – Calum’s performances were exceeding expectations and his star was on the rise.
The return of Per Mertesacker saw Calum briefly dropped to the bench, but not for long as Mathieu Debuchy’s injury problems saw him reinstated to the first XI, this time at right back.
Here he demonstrated a willingness to get forward and decent crossing ability, but also exposed a lack of pace that makes a long term career at full back unlikely.
Further injury problems, this time for Koscielny, saw Chambers moved inside to right centre back, displacing Mertersacker from his natural side and bringing in the very inexperienced Hector Bellerin alongside him.
For a player still dining off his early season reputation, the lack of stability at the back started to take its toll.
Bellerin’s form and rapid improvement also caught the eye, and ultimately meant that with Koscielny’s return, it was the Englishman who dropped to the bench rather than his Spanish teammate.
It has not been an unsuccessful first half-season at the club – Calum has played 30 of the first 38 games overall (indeed, 30 of the first 33), and scored his first goal in Arsenal colours against Burnley at the start of November.
He has clearly integrated well into the squad and is held in high esteem by the manager.
However, since a rather uninspiring performance in midfield at Southampton on New Years’ Day, Chambers has seen nothing other than FA Cup action, and not even a space on the bench for three of the five Premier League games.
In some ways it’s probably not a bad thing – it’s difficult to learn your trade, particularly in a number of positions, when you are playing every few days with little recovery time.
It has reached the point now though, where he is now being unfavourably compared in some quarters to the likes of Erik Dier – an equally raw and markedly less talented player.
So where did it all go wrong for our young right back/centre back/defensive midfielder?
Well perhaps that in itself is the best place to start – Calum’s early games came as a direct consequence of Mertesacker’s international fatigue and Koscielny’s troublesome Achilles, while alternative cover options in the shape of Nacho Monreal and Debuchy were also out injured.
(It’s hard to believe Wenger would have thrown him straight in at centre back having never played there before without having his hand forced.)
Koscielny’s return was offset by Debuchy’s lay-off and Calum was shifted across the back four. His latest positional shift, as he returned to St Mary’s, was the first, and so far only, appearance in the centre of midfield.
In the long term, playing a number of positions at this stage in his career will help him understand where he should expect his colleagues to be and to develop a more rounded game.
In the short term, it has meant that he has been unable to settle into any one position, and has had an ever-changing cast of characters around him.
Mertesacker and his 104 international caps have ably demonstrated the impact of an inconsistent defence this season, in stark contrast to the likes of Chelsea who have been able to field the same back four in almost every Premier League game.
If our most experienced centre half is struggling, it is little surprise that Calum gets caught out on occasion.
Positionally, he must learn when to stay home and when it’s OK to bomb forward.
Against Middlesbrough it was a common sight to see both him and Gibbs pushing forward, particularly when the ball was over on the left hand side of the pitch, but against stronger opposition that’s when we start to see the overloading counter attacks which end in us conceding so familiarly.
This also applies when it comes to making challenges.
Calum has great timing for making his tackles, but he needs to learn when it is better to jockey and allow team mates to get back into position rather than diving in.
He has picked up far too many cards and left his team even more exposed this season on occasion.
Likewise, he needs to learn when not to go up for an aerial challenge, as it’s not unusual to see him step out to challenge the full back for a header but in doing so leaves the winger free in behind him should he lose the duel.
Which leads me on to a rather more concerning element of his game – for a player who has been playing in the centre of defence, Chambers regularly misjudges the aerial flight of the ball.
He actually has an OK success rate in aerial duels, but he does not win as many as he should for a player of his height in a position where it is not uncommon to be up against a shorter winger.
Certainly he quite often misjudges the flight of the ball enough that he is in insufficient control of what will happen to the ball afterwards. It is a part of his game that he must improve, no matter where he is to play.
Over time, I believe Calum’s future lies in the centre of the pitch, more likely in midfield than in defence.
At the top level, most full backs have a searing level of pace which he simply cannot match, at least over the first few yards. Once he gets going, he’s not too shabby over the ground, but the initial acceleration is lacking. That kind of pace, although helpful at centre back, is less necessary, but it is usual for a slower player to be paired with a complementing partner who does have speed on their side – think Koscielny, Cahill, Vertoghen.
Typically then, those slower players bring a level of physicality to the table – with Mertesacker it is his height, with John Terry it is his aggression, with Martin Skrtel it is his kamikazi attitude.
Chambers doesn’t really have any of those qualities to exceptional levels at least. That’s not to say he cannot play in that position, but to make a success of it at the top level he will need to develop significantly.
On the flip side, he is clearly very comfortable with the ball at his feet, and has a tendency to try and do something a bit more ambitious than your average defender.
He also has great strength, proving difficult to push off the ball even when he has buried himself in trouble, and his interception statistics make for good reading.
He’ll need to improve his reading of the game in the same way that it is relatively easy for opposition forwards to get in behind him when he plays in defence at the moment, but in general his qualities all lead to the idea that his long term future is at the base of our midfield.
No matter where he plays, there is work to do, but he is in an excellent place to develop. It’s not all doom and gloom – clearly his performances at the start of the season were positive and welcome, playing with composure and confidence, and he has also shown his leadership qualities in captaining England at youth level.
With the right coaching and a more settled reintroduction to the first team, he could yet prove to be another canny Wenger addition.