Calum Chambers is set to become Arsenal’s fourth major signing of the current transfer window. According to David Ornstein and Nabil Hassan of the BBC, Chambers underwent his medical examination on Friday and should complete the formalities of the deal on Monday. It’s a signing that’s come as something of a surprise to Arsenal fans, but it’s undoubtedly a good one.
(UPDATE: Arsenal have confirmed the deal, with details here.)
The reason it caught many off guard is because Arsenal don’t ostensibly need another right-back. Chambers was mentioned in passing when it became clear that Bacary Sagna would leave for Manchester City, but when Arsenal opted for Mathieu Debuchy instead, it appeared that ship had sailed.
However, the crux of Wenger’s decision to sign Chambers is that he isn’t just a full-back. Arsenal needed to replace Sagna's capacity to cover in various areas. When Arsenal lost the Frenchman, they didn’t just lose a first-choice right-back; they also lost a potential left-back and a competent centre-half.
Chambers is just as versatile—if not even more so. Speaking to ESPN during Arsenal’s trip to New York, Arsene Wenger commented:
He hasn't played many games, no, but the English players on the market in England are very expensive and at the end of the day I was ready to take a gamble because he is a player for the future.
He can play at centre-back, right-back and [in] central midfield. I hope he will give us competition for the players in these three positions.
Although Chambers is widely known as a right-back, having played almost all his first-team football there for Southampton, he actually came up through the ranks as an attacking central midfielder in the Aaron Ramsey mould. What's more, those who’ve watched him extensively at England youth level believe there may yet be a commanding centre-half lurking within Chambers.
That adaptability is what makes him so attractive to Arsenal. Chambers offers them cover in a number of areas where they are deficient. His ability to play as a centre-back is particularly important, as the Gunners are desperately short of numbers in that part of the pitch.
His youth, nationality, versatility and price tag make Chambers eerily reminiscent of Phil Jones. Wenger is a confirmed admirer of Jones, and according to Daniel Taylor of The Guardian, the Gunners made a significant play for him when he moved from Blackburn to Manchester United. Wenger missed out on that occasion, but now seems to have snared a player with similar potential. Both Chambers and Jones could be mainstays of the England defence for years to come.
Chambers’ arrival spells trouble for Carl Jenkinson, who could now be forced to leave the club on loan. However, that should be looked at as an opportunity rather than a penalty. Jenkinson is on a long-term deal at Arsenal, and a short-term move could enable him to improve his chances of becoming a regular first-team player.
Mathieu Debuchy has just turned 29. Within a couple of years, his experience could become expendable. It’s possible that Wenger’s long-term vision sees both Jenkinson and Chambers fighting it out for the right-back spot.
Chambers would appear to be the front-runner in that particular race. Unlike Jenkinson, he is certain to be part of Arsenal’s squad for 2014/15. He also appears to be the more technically accomplished player. Arsene Wenger will relish the chance to develop one of Britain’s most exciting defensive talents, while Arsenal fans will relish getting to watch him grow.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.