Arsenal centre-back Calum Chambers faces uncertain future
By Nick Wright
Last Updated: 21/06/17 10:31am
Calum Chambers will be in action for England U21s when they face Poland at the European U21 Championship live on Sky Sports on Thursday night, but what's next for him at club level?
The Arsenal centre-back's future has been overshadowed by the speculation surrounding the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at the Emirates Stadium, but he is due to return to his parent club this summer having spent last season on loan at Middlesbrough.
So can he force his way into Arsene Wenger's plans? Or does his future lie away from north London? We assess the situation and get the verdict of former Arsenal striker and Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith.
How did he fare at the Riverside?
Middlesbrough may have been relegated but Chambers certainly made a positive impression at the Riverside Stadium. The 22-year-old swiftly ousted Daniel Ayala to become Aitor Karanka's first choice partner for Ben Gibson at centre-back, and he kept his place under Steve Agnew, too.
With Chambers playing a key role, Middlesbrough conceded fewer goals than the eight teams who finished above them in the table. The Arsenal loanee showed impressive maturity at centre-back and even filled in at right-back on occasions. The only issue was a foot injury which kept him sidelined between February and April.
Indeed, it was no coincidence that Middlesbrough only won one out of 14 Premier League games he missed over the course of the campaign, with Agnew admitting they felt his absence at key moments. "He's been excellent," he said in May. "He's a top defender, but not only has he got great defensive qualities, he has a high level of technical ability."
Can he break into the Arsenal team?
Despite his progress at Middlesbrough, breaking into the Arsenal team will not be easy. Laurent Koscielny and £35m signing Shkodran Mustafi look like certain starters, while Wenger can also call on Gabriel Paulista and club captain Per Mertesacker, who produced a man-of-the-match display in the FA Cup final.
The new 3-4-2-1 formation opens up another centre-back spot in the team, but he also faces competition from Rob Holding. Chambers has been preferred to the former Bolton youngster for England's U21s in Poland, but Holding is likely to have the edge back at the Emirates having finished the season so strongly.
It all adds up to a difficult task for Chambers, whose prospects are further limited by the fact that he is not a natural fit for the role of wing-back in Wenger's new set-up. The Gunners boss described his performances at Middlesbrough as "very positive" as recently April, but the competition for places in Arsenal's squad is fierce.
Is he in demand?
Chambers has reportedly attracted interest from a string of clubs. According to the Daily Mail, Everton will consider a move for the Arsenal man if they fail in their efforts to sign Michael Keane from Burnley.
The Mail also mentions newly-promoted Newcastle, Bournemouth and German side Red Bull Leipzig as possible suitors, while West Ham and Crystal Palace are also believed to be monitoring his situation. If Arsenal do make him available this summer, he is unlikely to be short of options.
So what's the verdict?
Should Chambers stay and fight for a place at Arsenal, or look for regular first-team football elsewhere? "It all depends how much he is going to get used," Smith tells Sky Sports. "Maybe there is an opening for him with Gabriel not really impressing and Mertesacker at his age, but I think Holding is probably ahead of him for now.
"The year at Middlesbrough did him the world of good playing week in week out. He had a decent season next to Ben Gibson and they forged a good partnership. There was nothing wrong with Middlesbrough's defensive record.
It's hard to go back to being a fringe player having played regularly, but my feeling is that would want to succeed at Arsenal. There were times before last season when it looked a bit much for him but he is a good lad with a good character. It's a big decision, but I hope it works out for him."