Can Theo Walcott and Calum Chambers form a deadly partnership for Arsenal & England?
Arsenal completed the signing of Calum Chambers from Southampton for a fee of around £16 million yesterday. The young right-back has what it takes to be a fixture in the Arsenal side for many years to come but England could also be major beneficiaries of his arrival at the Emirates.
Theo Walcott, himself signed for £12 million (including add-ons) in 2006, suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament against Tottenham in January, which ruled him out for the second half of last season, as well as the World Cup. 25-year-old is Walcott is set to return to full training with Arsenal in August, and he and Chambers could form an excellent partnership on the right flank for both club and country.
Walcott became England’s youngest-ever international when he made his debut aged 17 years and 17 days in 2006, though he has yet to make an appearance in a World Cup – he was an unused substitute in 2006, not selected for 2010, and unavailable for 2010. In his absence, younger talents like Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley have been declared by many as the future of the England team, overlooking the threat that Walcott brings.
His main attribute is his incredible pace, which can stretch even the most organised defence. When Walcott plays, teams tend to sit further back to try and negate that lethal speed, which creates space for his teammates. This additional freedom can allow the likes of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal, and Sterling and Barkley for England, to inflict maximum damage.
While Walcott is classed as a right winger, he has often stated that he sees himself as a striker and frequently cuts inside to run at goal. He scored five goals in nine Premier League starts last season, and scored 14 during the 2012/13 campaign. At Arsenal, Walcott’s incisive movement complements Olivier Giroud’s hold-up play. At international level, Daniel Sturridge and Sterling both have the ability and intelligence to move out wide when Walcott makes his move, offering a fluid attacking threat from different directions.
Walcott’s frequent runs inside creates problems for the opposition, but it also places additional demands on his right-back – they need to get forward to supply the width when Walcott moves inside, and they don’t receive much defensive cover. Walcott won just four tackles in the Premier League last year, and he only completed nine defensive actions (interceptions, blocked shots, and clearances) – averaging 0.69 per game – all season.
Arsene Wenger believes Chambers can perform as a centre-back or as a midfielder, though his immediate future at the club is likely to be as an alternative to Mathieu Debuchy on the right side of defence.
Playing behind Walcott places a huge burden on Arsenal’s right-back, but the 19-year-old has shown enough to suggest he can cope. Chambers may only have made 22 Premier League appearances in his career to date, but he has already demonstrated his defensive quality. He made 2.08 tackles per 90 minutes last season, more than any Arsenal or Southampton defender.
He also has the ability to contribute in an attacking sense. He created 0.66 chances per 90 minutes last season, which is slightly higher than last year’s Arsenal right-back Bacary Sagna (0.62), but a lower rate than Debuchy (0.83). The England Under-19 captain also completed 0.93 take-ons per 90 last season, more than both Sagna and Debuchy.
He will only continue to improve as he gains experience, and his £16 million price tag reflects his vast potential. He’ll be playing alongside a higher standard of player at Arsenal, which will also help his development.
Debuchy is 29, while current England right-back Glen Johnson is the same age. Chambers is will be looking to take over from both of them in the long-term. Arsene Wenger has a long history of giving young players an opportunity when he thinks they are ready, while there are question marks over Glen Johnson’s defensive ability. It isn’t hard to see Chambers pushing hard for the right-back slot at club and international level in the near future.
The best international sides are often built around a core of players who play together at club level, think of Spain’s recent success and Germany’s win at this summer’s World Cup. If Walcott and Chambers can form an understanding at Arsenal, England will also benefit.
Both players are athletic and capable of playing in a team that plays a possession-based game. They also both began their careers at Southampton, but it’s Arsenal and England that look set to reap the rewards of their potential partnership.