It brings me no pleasure to peel back the plaster and gaze into the open wound that is Monday night's goaless draw with Liverpool, but I felt intrigued to explore the interesting dynamic that was the pairing of Calum Chambers and Gabriel Paulista. A comparison of the two defenders told plenty about where they are in their respected developments, but also a great deal about how their performances impacted upon the rest of the team in both halves of the match.
It's fair to say all football fans could relate to the fear that spread around the Arsenal community as soon as the news hit. Arsenal would be without both, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. It was reminiscent of the fear that surrounds you the moment at school when you accidently stare at the hard kid for a second too long and he toys with the idea of punching you, this is us staring at a teamsheet, waiting for Christian Benteke to dig a right hook into our ribs. Approximately 30 minutes before kick-off, everyone knew Arsenal would be in for a tough night.
So what happened, well what became blatantly obvious after 5 minutes was that Chambers was not mentally prepared enough to step up at short notice. The Englishman was embarrassingly nervous. His indecision and recklessness spread through the team and made for a jittery ride through the first half. The lack of communication between Chambers and his teamates led to him taking some huge risks with the ball, but is was the lack of cohesion between Chambers and Gabriel that caused Arsenal the most problems in the first period. One trying to play offside, the other dropping deeper. Blame it on Gabriel's limited English or blame it on Chambers panic attack, they clearly struggled to blend as a defensive unit.
The Second half came and what was immediately noticeable was Gabriel ascending to the role of leader. The Brazilian began to grow comfortably into the game, intercepting and challenging Benteke on the second ball rather then the 50/50. As Gabriel took control this spread a calmer, more confident message through the spine of the team. The midfield began to build upon this and increased their aggression, matching Liverpool and Gabriel's example. It didn't lead to a goal and Arsenal's second half performance was far from perfect, but it was much improved from the first.
Given the nature of this performance it feels like a loss, the pain of this sting will not heal overnight, but it's worth clinging to some positives to speed the process. Pundits far and wide spoke about the 10-15 points Petr Cech could earn Arsenal this season, consider Monday night the first one. His magnificent saves allayed any naive fears that he wasn't every bit the world class Goalkeeper we hoped he was. Another positive is the confidence Gabriel will take from this game. Liverpool were tough opposition and he displayed a performance which suggested he is up to the task of being a top Premier League defender.
For the first time we were able to see the versatility in Gabriel's game, from being the aggressive defender that contests and duels with the physical strikers to the spare defender that uses intelligent positioning to observe the game and clean up any debris. The challenge for the Brazilian international is clear, dislodging Mertesacker and becoming a staple in Arsenal's defence alongside Koscielny.
In terms of Chambers, the future is not so clear, It's more then likely he will develop no further then being a squad player for Arsenal, however this is a squad game and he will be called upon again. One thing for certain is Calum will learn from this experience and it will help aid his future preparation and performance. He's not the first 20-year-old, promising centre back to have nightmare game. John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Raphael Varane have all had their moments and recovered, so shall Chambers. It would of been easy for Wenger to take the Englishman off at half time and revert the ever reliable Nacho Monreal to centre back, but Wenger wanted to give Chambers the chance to improve and redeem some confidence. Chambers got better and will be better for coming through this adversity, let us not forget also the game did end with a clean sheet.
The game has changed, patience and cool heads are like distant friends you know you should see but never do. Three games in and the mood is frantically declining into panic and fear. I want to refrain from commenting on Wenger's team selection or transfer policy. Like most fans, I've grown weary of the arduous transfer fodder that continues to over-stay its welcome long past the season's commencement. We should be speaking about football, sometimes negative aspects as well as the positives, but football nonetheless. The most interesting story of Monday night was that of Calum Chambers and Gabriel Paulista.