Given that Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have established themselves as integral members of Arsenal’s first-team squad in recent years, it’s no surprise that the next player to join the club from Southampton has started life as a Gunner in a similarly convincing manner.
At times it’s hard to remember that Calum Chambers has only just turned 20. Since signing six months ago, the Petersfield-born defender has enjoyed many highs – including winning the FA Community Shield, making his England debut and scoring his first professional goal – and the occasional low. What is both striking and impressive is the assured and mature manner in which Calum has dealt with his high profile move to Arsenal.
Speaking to the Arsenal Magazine at the training ground recently, Calum was keen to point out just how much he’s loving his time in north London – a period which he believes has helped him develop as a player and as a person.
Calum, how would you assess your first season at Arsenal so far?
Moving here has certainly lived up to expectations and more. This is such an amazing club. The people here have really helped me to settle in and the players and all the staff have been great. If I have any problems, I feel I can go to them. That’s what I feel has helped me to settle in most – how warm and like a family this place is.
What was it like to leave Southampton for London?
I lived with Harrison Reed for over a season in Southampton. Before that, he lived at my house and we used to travel in together every day. He was someone I got to know well and we really got on together. Moving from a flat where you’re with a friend to somewhere new was a bit different and it’s been a big change, but I think I’ve grown up a lot more. Moving has helped me to develop myself. I came here to play for this amazing club and I knew that it was further from home. But that’s just going to help me grow as a person.
How did you feel when you found out that Arsenal were interested in signing you?
Very excited! I just wanted to do everything I could to get the opportunity to come here. I remember wanting to come here. When you know there’s interest from a club like Arsenal, you can’t really relax until you get there. But I’d also like to say how much respect I have for Southampton. They are a big part in my life and career and I still have many friends at the club.
We’ve seen you mention how big an influence your family are on you before. What role did they play in your move here?
My family helped massively with my move to Arsenal. They’ve always been so supportive throughout my career. But if I’m honest, I haven’t really needed them as much as I thought I might have done, because of how welcome and supportive everyone at Arsenal has been. Arsenal is like a family, there is a great spirit here. But my family have been great. We see each other as much as we can and it’s nice to know that they are always there to support me. Having support both at the club and from my family helps me to focus on my football. I can concentrate on my game completely, which will help me develop in the long run.
When you were making your way through the ranks at Southampton, was there any player that you particularly looked up to?
Theo Walcott. Theo, because he was breaking into the first team when I was younger. Gareth Bale was in that bracket too, and then Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came through a few years later, so the younger players at the club had a lot of players to look up to. That inspired us all because we could see them making it into the first team, which gave us the incentive to push on a lot more.
Is Theo a special role model, when you consider that he was the first of Southampton’s talents to move and forge a career at a club playing regularly in Europe and at the top level?
Theo’s a top professional. I look up to him and respect him massively. He’s been really good to me as well. He’s been really supportive and I feel like if there’s anything I need, I can go to him and ask. He’s the kind of guy who will give you his full attention. He’s done so well since he’s been here, and so has Alex. Theo is one of the most experienced players here now, and that’s something I look up to, because it’s what I want to become myself. I have huge respect for Theo as a player and a person.
Did you ever watch Theo playing for Southampton when you were younger?
Yeah I did. I was quite young so we were given tickets to go and watch the games. The coaches at Southampton used to encourage us to go and watch him in the first team because they saw him as someone we could aspire to be like. I used to watch him and look up to him. I knew I had to do everything I could to get there too. I used to watch how hard he and the other first team players worked in matches and learnt a lot from them.
We’ve seen Southampton consistently produce players over the last decade. What is it that makes the youth set-up there so strong?
I think it’s the grounding that you’re given as a young player at Southampton. If anyone steps out of line or comes in and thinks they’re bigger than they are, they are told straightaway. Everyone’s feet are kept firmly on the ground, which I think is good. The educational and welfare side help you learn how to be a young professional. That matures everyone at a younger age and helps you progress quicker as a result. I cleaned Rickie Lambert’s boots for a couple of seasons – sometimes on cold winter nights. We were each given a player whose boots we had to clean at the end of every day, even if it was raining or snowing. That’s another way of grounding people too. It was good for us. You wanted to get to the stage where you had a boot boy cleaning your boots, so it was something else that made you want to push on more. I think it’s really important to keep your feet on the ground at a young age. You shouldn’t think you’ve made it, because at that stage you’ve got a long way to go. I will always be so grateful to Southampton for how much they helped me as a young player. I learnt so much there and have huge respect for everyone at Southampton.
The likes of Hector Bellerin, Chuba Akpom and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have been in and around the Arsenal squad lately. How would you assess the level of the young players here?
We have a lot of quality young players at Arsenal. You can see that they have a lot of potential, and at that age it’s all about working hard and taking any opportunity you get. I’ve seen them in training and in some of the games they’ve been involved in. They’re quality players and have big futures ahead of them. Some of them are similar ages to me, so it’s quite hard for me to give them advice. If someone really young comes into the squad, I’ll try to help and encourage them. I get along well with the boys that are my age and with anyone that comes in, you try to give them advice and try to help as much as you can.
Let’s talk a bit about your return to Southampton on New Year’s Day. What was the experience like?
To be honest, it was really weird. I was at Southampton for a long time, so to go in the away dressing room, warm up on the other side of the pitch and then get booed by the home fans was a different experience! As I said before, I have huge respect for everyone at Southampton, so it was a bit of a strange experience. Alex said that when he first went back to play at Southampton with Arsenal, he almost went into the home dressing room before the game, and I nearly did the same! It was just a habit once upon a time, so I had to redirect myself to the Arsenal dressing room. Southampton holds special memories for me and I did really enjoy going back. I think I will always enjoy going back because it’s got a special place in my heart. But I’m proud to be an Arsenal player now, and on the day we were all really disappointed with our performance. We know we can play better than how we did that day.
You played in holding midfield for the first time in an Arsenal shirt during that game. How did you find it?
I enjoyed it. I haven’t played there for a long time, so it took me a while to get used to it and back into the flow of things there. Once I got the first 10 minutes out of the way, I started to relax a bit more. I started enjoying it in the second half. You get into the flow of things and it was a good experience for me, because it was the first time I’ve played there in the Premier League. But again, as a team we know we didn’t perform to our potential on the day and were all really disappointed with the result.
How have you found playing in three different positions this season? What are the main differences?
The positional side of the game is of course different. Right back is a lot harder physically, because you have a lot of running up and down the pitch to do. You can’t have a lapse of concentration wherever you’re playing. If you switch off for a second, something can happen really quickly that costs the whole team. You’ve got to stay focused for the whole game. You have to be aware defensively in all of those positions. When we’re attacking, you have to think about where your opponent is and make sure you’re in the right position to stop them countering.
You’ve already experienced ups and downs with the team results during your first six months here. How do you deal with both?
I’ve been told by a lot of people to enjoy the ups while you can. You try to have as many of those as you can because it’s such a good feeling to win or to have a good game. When you get those downs, you have to learn. When you have a bad game or a bad result, you have to watch the game back. From my experience, that’s the only way you can learn from it – analyse your performances and pick up the things you did wrong and work hard on it. The coaches here always help and take you through things. That’s the best way of dealing with things. You have to watch it, learn from it and move on.
We imagine the biggest high so far was scoring your first professional goal in the 3-0 win over Burnley?
When I was younger I used to score a few, but that was my first goal in the Premier League. It was a big thing for me, because it was my first for Arsenal too. The ball bounced down to me and I just swung my foot at it, and thankfully it went in. I ran off towards the crowd, saw my family and then celebrated! It was a great moment for me and don’t worry, I’m hoping there will be a few more of those in the future!
Of course another high was making your England debut last September. How much does it help to have a group of players you know from Arsenal alongside you on international duty?
Being called up for England was a huge honour. When I went away with England for the first time, it helped me to have so many guys from Arsenal there. You can mingle in with them and then they can help you to get your confidence up around the other boys as well. They helped me a lot to settle in on the international stage. My debut was a big moment for me and it was great to have all my family and friends there. It was at Wembley too, which made me even more proud.
You often competed for the right-back slot with Nathaniel Clyne at Southampton, and have found yourselves together in the England squad this season too.
It’s amazing for both of us to have the opportunity to play for our country. I’ve always had a good relationship with Clyney. We pushed each other on at Southampton and that made us both better players. It made our performances better too. We’ve moved that on to the international stage and that’s good too. You always know that you have to put in your best performance because you’ve got someone ready to push for your spot.
How has it been playing for Arsenal in Europe this season?
I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a lot different to the Premier League in terms of the style of play and the match officials. You have to slightly adapt your game to it. I feel we’ve had some good results in Europe and I’ve enjoyed that. English football is a lot more physical, and in Europe you have to be careful with your challenges. I think in Europe, fouls are given a lot easier. That means you have to make an adaptation to your game when the style of football changes. There’s a lot of travelling and flying but I enjoy it. I like to get into a TV series when we travel, it helps me relax and keeps me rested. I’m debating about starting watching ‘24’ at the moment!
In which ways do you think you’ve grown as a player since joining Arsenal?
I think I’ve matured a lot. I’ve worked on my game, I’ve watched a lot of my performances back and I’ve gained a lot of experience both in playing in the Premier League and in Europe. I think I’ve added a lot to my game, which is good. I just want to keep working hard, adding things to my game every day and keep learning from each match I play.
Finally, how happy are you with the progress you’ve made since signing?
I’m really pleased with how things have gone so far. I’ve played a lot and I’ve been happy with the first half of the season. I’m confident in my own ability and I hope the coaches and the fans are happy with my performances. Now I have to keep that going in the second half of the season – carry on enjoying my football and building on what I’ve done in my first six months here. I want to keep improving on my performances and maybe try to score a couple more goals – I think I’ll stick to the knee slide if that happens because it’s all I know!