There has been much debate among Arsenal supporters about Calum Chambers since his arrival in July. It surprised many, so shortly after the signing of an experienced International right back. Living in Southampton, having spent a lot of time around the youth football scene in Hampshire, including the academies and knowing so many regular at St Mary’s I probably had more knowledge than some. For me and for many of the Southampton fans I know Chambers was always going to be a centre back and many around here though he should have got more game time there for Saints, particular has Clyne is such a proficient right back and Yoshida and accident waiting to happen. I would go as far as to stick my neck out and say he will play centrally for England regularly within 2 to 3 years. Interestingly though Wenger has also hinted that he sees him getting game time at the base of our midfield and with his pace and evident game reading this is an exciting prospect to me rather than a scary one. If the strong transfer rumours linking us with Greek International defender Manolas prove genuine that possibility is even more likely.
The prospect of Chambers covering one of the centre back positions and that of Arteta may not thrill Flamini but it does me and I suspect many fans. In addition I have not even mentioned the obvious, in that he can allow Debuchy a rest at right back or stand in should the Frenchman be injured. Flamini himself we was probably one of the last genuine utility players under Wenger in his first spell at the club, memorably playing superbly well at left back in our run to Paris in 2006.
However in truth Flamini whist performing admirably at full back and in the defensive midfield role he finally made his own in 2007/8, never played centre back for Arsenal. Alex Song played in midfield and at centre back but never at full back. Lauren came as a midfielder and then started at right back of course but has Wenger ever had a man at his disposal that played in all three roles well enough to cover them in a winning team? The answer is yes and in considering the value of having Calum Chambers in our squad in 2014/15 I found myself today thinking of one of Wenger’s first signings and a man he still trusts to this day. Yes I was grinning to myself thinking of the ultimate Wenger utility man and now a valued scout Gilles Grimandi. Can CC be this seasons GG only better? The last time I saw Grimandi in the flesh was on the back of an open top bus laughing and celebrating his part in Wenger second double in 2002. Of course this was to be his last official function as an Arsenal player before returning to France but how significant was he to Arsenal in his 5 seasons?
I may be looking back through red and white tinted glasses but I recall Grimandi as the go to first reserve who rarely let us down in whichever position he played. The sort of player that when you look back and name your first choice eleven from any of those seasons he would not be in it but you will be surprised how often he was. Chambers could well in 2015/15 be what GG was in from 97 to 2002.
I took a look back just at the games Grimandi started in his first season and Wenger’s first full campaign. A campaign which brought Arsenal’s first domestic double since 1971 and although Gilles missed out on Wembley he started 23 games in all competitions but it is where he started them that is amazing. He started 10 at right back, 2 at left back, 10 at centre back and 1 as a defensive midfielder. I imagine young Chambers would be content to start 23 games across those positions this season learning and improving all the time. In fact Grimandi including substitute appearances featured in 32 matches and that would be a wonderful target for Chambers in his first campaign across the 3 positions and it would be hard to see how he would not be a more rounded player if he hit such a target. But what of Grimandi the ultimate ‘Unsung Hero’ of the early Wenger glory years? A quite 98/99 saw him make the starting line up only 6, 4 times at centre back and twice in the holding midfield role. In 1999/2000 Wenger started him 30 times, 19 in central defence and 11 as a defensive midfielder. In 2000/01 he stared once at right back, on 11 occasions at centre back and 18 times at DM including staring in FA Cup Final in that role. By his final season Grimandi was certainly primarily a defensive midfielder starting in that role on 15 occasions and only 4 times in defence.
Over his 5 season Gilles Grimandi played for Arsenal in 170 competitive fixtures in a period that saw Arsenal win the League and Cup double twice and finish runners up in the league 3 times and in the FA Cup once and the UEFA Cup once. He was and still is the ultimate Wenger utility man and whilst I would not wish Chambers to build his career that way I could easily see it being so for the first two seasons. That prospect is one that I find exceedingly comforting as an Arsenal supporter for two reasons.
Firstly I think it will be hugely beneficial to Arsenal and Wenger to have a player with his talent and intelligence able to cover potentially 3 positions to a high level as Grimandi did. Secondly and more importantly I think this experience playing in varying roles will benefit Chambers himself and ultimately make him the best centre back he can be. His reading of the game and positional sense can only be enhanced I hope that is great news for Arsenal and for England fans for many years to come.
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If you wish to read about Arsenal legend Geordie Armstrong please also check out the website for the new tribute book available to pre-order now