While Southampton will mourn the departure of Calum Chambers in a summer in which they continue to be decimated, Arsenal will be delighted. Manager Arsene Wenger has snapped up one of the brightest prospects in English football.
Some may be surprised by Wenger's decision to pounce for Chambers. He was mooted as a potential addition earlier this summer, but that idea seemed to have been put to bed by the acquisition of Mathieu Debuchy as Bacary Sagna's replacement. It seemed Wenger had opted for experience in the right-back role. However, Chambers is more than merely a right-back. Chief among his many attributes is versatility.
- Wenger: Deal is a gamble
The 19-year-old is capable of plugging several gaps in Arsenal's squad. He has played more than one position already in his young career. In the Southampton academy, Chambers earned a reputation as a burgeoning box-to-box midfielder, often arriving late in the opponent's penalty area to do damage. When he broke in to the senior side, he played predominantly as a right-back. The skills built up by playing central midfield stood him in good stead: It was immediately apparent that he had huge reserves of stamina and a preternatural ease on the ball.
It was Chambers' playing at right-back that caught Wenger's eye. Chambers started for Southampton -- and was outstanding -- in their 2-2 draw with Arsenal at St. Mary's Stadium in January. Chambers' performance combined the balance and grace of a winger with the fierce commitment of a rugged defender.
He has flourished in the new position, but his expanding range of roles may not end there. His England U19 coach, Noel Blake, has put forward the theory that Chambers may one day make an excellent centre-half. Arsene Wenger appears to concur. In his interview with Arsenal Player, Chambers spoke about his conversations with his new manager:
"He said that he sees me at right-back, centre-back, holding centre-midfield," he said. "He sees me in a variety of different positions, which I like, because then I can find out where I am best at and push myself as far as I can go in that position."
Although Chambers will start life at Arsenal as the deputy to Debuchy, he could grow into so much more. On the surface, Arsenal have signed a backup full-back. In the long term, they may yet end up with a towering centre-half or a powerful midfielder. That kind of potential excited Wenger, and should excite Arsenal fans, too.
Perhaps we ought to have seen this coming. Wenger has been chasing a versatile young English defender for some time. In the summer of 2011, he agreed to a fee with Blackburn Rovers for Phil Jones, only to be beaten to his signature by Manchester United. Jones and Chambers seem to be comparable prospects, and the latter will surely follow the former by graduating to the full England squad sooner rather than later.
The arrival of Chambers will be a worry for Carl Jenkinson, however. The boyhood Arsenal fan had declared his intent to seize the right-back spot for himself in the wake of Sagna's departure. Instead, just a matter of weeks on, he finds himself as third choice. Unlike Chambers, Jenkinson does not have the requisite aerial ability to function as a central defender. His opportunities are likely to be severely limited, and a move away -- even if only temporarily -- seems inevitable.
Wenger won't worry too much about that. Jenkinson is a popular member of the squad, but Chambers appears to be an upgrade. He is technically superior and much more versatile, offering solutions in a variety of problem positions. The rumoured 16 million pound fee may seem expensive now, but time tends to redeem Wenger's instincts.
The indications are that Arsenal have got hold of a player at the start of a long and illustrious career -- whatever position he ends up playing.