Winning a place in the starting line up of any team can be all about supreme talent and innate abilities but it can also be about seizing opportunities.
While Calum Chambers may not fall into the former of those two categories, he may just be about to force his way into the second.
After being sent out on loan to Fulham last season, the former Southampton man’s future looked at best uncertain under Unai Emery. It seemed as if the he was being fattened up for a summer sale as the Gunners looked to clear out some of the squad’s dead wood and raise much-needed revenue.
As we have seen countless times over the years, however, serendipity can play an important role in the rise and fall of a player’s fortunes.
The dual injuries to Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding in the winter, coupled with the crumbling of the manager’s confidence in Shkodran Mustafi suddenly pulled back the curtains for Chambers.
With the light now streaming in, the unexpected departure of Laurent Koscielny and the sale of Carl Jenkinson threw open the window for the 24-year-old, and he promptly stepped into the team for the season-opening trip to Newcastle, a game in which he performed reasonably well.
The arrival of David Luiz and the manager’s preference for pairing the Brazilian with Sokratis meant Chambers swiftly found himself back on the bench but, as the Gunners’ defence lurched from bad to worse, fans suddenly started asking themselves if Chambers could possible do any worse.
A trip to Eintracht Frankfurt was to provide the answer as the versatile defender produced a quite excellent performance as stand-in right back to Ainsley Maitland Niles, helping his side to a 3-0 win in Germany. It was by no means perfect, but it was a deal better than we had seen from the Gunners’ first choice defensive line-up.
Though the Englishman again found himself on the bench for the visit of Aston Villa last Sunday, happenstance showed its hand once more as Maitland Niles received his marching orders and Emery was forced into a tactical change.
Bukayo Saka was sacrificed and Chambers introduced at right back to help balance the team for a second-half offensive.
The substitute responded with a crucial equalising goal and another sterling effort at right back, helping his side snatch all three points from a game they looked destined to throw away when they slipped 2-1 behind midway through the second half.
With the bit between his teeth, Chambers was straight back into the fray just two days later as he lined up against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup – he responded by providing three assists, including an absolute peach of a cross from Gabriel Martinelli to open the scoring, in a 5-0 win.
While the plaudits for the victory have been heaped on Arsenal’s young stars – the likes of Reiss Nelson and Martinelli – the renaissance of Chambers has not gone unnoticed. What started as mere questions as to his inclusion have grown steadily into a clamour for his instalment in the starting XI.
With Luiz and Sokratis floundering, Maitland Niles still far from a convincing option at right back, and Hector Bellerin still three weeks or so from a return to top tier action, this may well prove the moment Chambers has been waiting for.
There is no doubting he is a better player now than when he was shipped out to west London last summer. Whether he has worked hard enough to achieve the potential Arsene Wenger saw when he signed him from the Saints remains to be seen but his improvement cannot be denied. He plays like a man with much more experience and confidence than the one whose career was in serious doubt 12 months ago. That, hopefully, won’t have escaped the notice of his manager.
Saka’s surprise inclusion in the squad for the Villa match was proof that good performances can earn you opportunities in this Arsenal side, so why not Chambers?
I’m not naïve enough to believe he is the solution to the defensive problems that currently plague us but he certainly can’t hurt and, if naught else, good performances should be rewarded.
For that reason, I hope he gets a good week of training under his belt and finds himself in contention for a starting berth against Manchester United on Monday. It is a match likely to be decided by the respective defences and, if we can fashion any sort of improvement at the back, however small, it must be welcomed.
While my head says Emery will stick with Sokratis and Luiz for a little while longer, there is a part of me that thinks this might just be Chambers’ moment.
In every sense, football is a funny old game and matches, careers, and seasons can turn on just a little bit of luck.